In late 1860, six Sisters of Mercy, led by Sister Mary DeSales Browne, traveled half-way across the country from Baltimore to a tiny river city called Vicksburg, located near the border of Mississippi and Louisiana. Father F. X. Leray had called on them to educate the children of the city, who had no access to education – not even a public school. The Sisters opened the town’s first school less than a week after arriving.
Nearly two years later, the school was shuttered as Sisters and families fled into the hills to avoid the cannon fire of the Civil War. After about a month, the Sisters returned to find their former school filled with sick and injured soldiers. They immediately began providing nursing care. During the heaviest battles, the injured were removed to areas of safety and the Sisters accompanied them to continue their care.
In 1864, Mother Mary DeSales Browne returned to Vicksburg and reopened the school with 200 students and only four Sisters.
In 1878, when a particularly harsh epidemic of yellow fever broke out in Vicksburg, Mother Mary DeSales Browne took over City Hospital, where the Sisters nursed as many as 300 patients a day.
In 1943, the Sisters assumed operations of a hospital, which they renamed Mercy Hospital. During their 48 years of service, it was designated a Regional Pediatric Polio Center and treated victims of numerous natural disasters. The Sisters served there until 1991, when Mercy sold the hospital to Quorum Health Care.
Today Mercy ministers in Mississippi through the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program (MHAP) in Jackson, Mississippi. MHAP was started in 1992, at the urging of Sister Cyrena Harkins, RSM, to be a collaborative effort aimed at improving health policies, practices and funding in Mississippi, especially for the poor and needy.