You can tell a lot by looking at a person’s face. The Faces of Mercy is why Mercy is Mercy. These merciful faces are our doctors, nurses and caregivers who make the world a more compassionate place. They are also the faces of our patients and their families, as well as the faces of our Sisters of Mercy who put their faith into action in 1827 and kept going. Because of their strength, vision and stamina, today we have Faces of Mercy all around us.
Sister Lisa Atkins is one of the youngest Sisters of Mercy currently ministering within Mercy. Although she spent a good deal of time with religious women while growing up in New Jersey, her own path wasn’t always clear.
As a high school student, Sister Lisa volunteered at a summer camp for inner city kids from New York City run by the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood, New Jersey. She worked as a lifeguard, swimming instructor and camp counselor. It was there she first experienced the Sisters’ passion for God, dedication to helping poor children and profound happiness in their work.
After high school, Sister Lisa planned to go to culinary school, but her friends and mentors encouraged her to go to college and realize her dream of becoming a counselor. She did so, pursuing a degree in psychology.
It was during college that she first met the Sisters of Mercy and began volunteering, coaching girls’ basketball at Sacred Heart Mercy Grade School; ministering on the border of the United States and Mexico in McAllen, Texas; and even assisting the poor in Honduras for a time.
“Through high school and college, I enjoyed life and all the activities a young adult woman takes part in – dating, sports, spending time with friends – in addition to volunteering with the Sisters,” Sister Lisa recalled. “However, deep in my mind and heart, I felt God's persistent call to dedicate my life to Him and work for the poor and sick in our society.”
After graduating from Belmont Abbey College in 1990 in North Carolina, it became clear to Sister Lisa that she was called to be God’s mercy in the world. She entered the Sisters of Mercy on Sept. 7, 1991.
“I chose the Sisters of Mercy because I so identified with Catherine McAuley's desire to dedicate her life to Jesus by bringing God's mercy to the world – most especially to the poor women, children and sick in society,” she said.
After joining the order, Sister Lisa assisted with the opening of Catherine's House, a homeless facility for women and children in North Carolina, and worked as a supervisor at House of Mercy, a homeless facility for individuals in the final stages of HIV/AIDS.
It was at the House of Mercy where she was introduced to nursing. She began what would be her ministry for the foreseeable future by assisting Sister Martha Hoyle, RSM, a nurse who became both her friend and mentor. In 1998, she obtained her certification as a registered nurse from Mercy School of Nursing in Charlotte, N.C. Sister Lisa spent the next six years ministering at various Mercy hospitals and clinics.
In 2004, she graduated from Maryville University as an advanced nurse practitioner with her bachelor’s and master’s of nursing degrees. That same year, she was asked to move to Rogers, Ark., to serve as a nurse practitioner at a diagnostic clinic. In 2006, she joined Mercy Convenient Care and Business Health Clinic, where she continues to work today.
“Part of my ministry is to listen to my patients,” she said. “Even if we have a wait of several hours, I’ll take the time to listen.”
On Dec. 12, 1831, Catherine McAuley and two companions took vows to become the first Sisters of Mercy. Ever since, Mercy celebrates Dec. 12 as Foundation Day.
Catherine, who grew up in Ireland’s middle class, suffered the loss of her father at age 5, followed by the death of her mother when Catherine was yet a teenager. After suffering in the care of family members intolerant of her Catholic faith, Catherine gladly accepted an invitation from the Callaghans, a Quaker family, to live with them on their estate.
Catherine began sowing the seeds of her ministry by encouraging others to share their talents and wealth to make the world a better place. She helped find shelter for abused women and homeless girls who had been turned down by other institutions.
In 1822, Catherine’s life changed. Mr. and Mrs. Callaghan died within a few years of each other, leaving her an inheritance worth nearly $1 million in today’s currency. Suddenly, the 44-year-old had the means to carry out her lifelong dream of helping the poor.
In 1827, Catherine used her million-dollar inheritance to open the first House of Mercy on Baggot Street – right in the heart of one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Catherine and her volunteers welcomed the homeless, unemployed, sick and abandoned – they loved the unlovable. The poorest women and children of Dublin found shelter and help at the House of Mercy.
To ensure that her ministry would continue, Catherine embarked on a new course of action and established a religious order. The Sisters of Mercy were revolutionary not only in their service to the poor, but because of their active involvement in the community. In an era when the cloistered life was the norm for women in religious communities, the Sisters became known as “the walking sisters.” The Sisters of Mercy were doers, not watchers. They had a bias for action.
Because of the founding Sisters’ strength, vision and stamina, Mercy continues today in communities around the globe.
Sister Mary Roch Rocklage never dreamed of being a nun. In fact, long before she was a nun, she thought “nuns were for the birds.” But as life often takes unexpected turns, she became a Sister of Mercy in 1954 and never looked back.
After taking her vows, Sister Roch began a nursing career that has spanned nearly 60 years, during which she has inspired countless patients and co-workers as nursing supervisor, hospital administrator and the first president of the Mercy health system in 1986.
“Sister Roch has been a visionary force in health care leadership, driven by a commitment to provide access to quality health care for all people,” said Lynn Britton, Mercy president and CEO.
As the 90th person ever inducted into Modern Healthcare’s Healthcare Hall of Fame, Sister Roch’s honor gives visible recognition to what others already knew.
From nursing school to leading the American Hospital Association and Catholic Health Association, Sister Roch understands the inner workings and complexities of the health care world. The opportunity to personally see health care from so many levels, combined with her leadership, helped her gain insight into the needs that exist within health care and the ways in which leaders might bring about change to serve those needs.
See what Sister Roch says about Mercy’s mission and one name.