ST. LOUIS - Leaders, co-workers, Sisters of Mercy, board members and the community gathered at Mercy Hospital St. Louis to bless the newly renovated “St. John’s Plaza,” on June 27, the 158th anniversary of the first Sisters of Mercy arriving in St. Louis by steamboat.
When the Sisters, led by Sr. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi Bentley, opened their first health care facility in St. Louis in 1871 at 22nd and Morgan, they chose St. John of God - the patron saint of hospitals and the sick – as their patron and named it St. John’s Infirmary. In 1891, the inﬁrmary expanded into St. John’s Hospital at 23rd and Locust. The hospital moved to Euclid in November 1912. The current location on Ballas opened in December 1963. And while the hospital was renamed Mercy Hospital St. Louis in September 2011, the plaza retains the name of our patron saint: St. John of God.
St. John’s Plaza provides an outdoor respite for patients, visitors and co-workers with symbolic references throughout. Water flows through the plaza in a gentle stream connecting the symbols and art reflective of Mercy heritage and values. The values – dignity, justice, service, excellence and stewardship – are etched prominently in stone for all to see on a wall that borders lush plantings. The center of the Meditation Garden is an infinity water fountain given by Steve Notestine in honor of his late wife, Pat, and in appreciation of Mercy Fertility Care Services.
The newest additions include two pieces of art with fine details about Mercy foundress Catherine McAuley. Tender Courage is a full size bronze sculpture and The Tender Way of Mercy is a bas relief, both with extreme attention to details of Mercy’s heritage.
Tender Courage – by artist Jane DeDecker
Executed in stunning bronze, this sculpture depicts a group of children gently shepherded by Catherine McAuley. She tends their needs while overseeing the mission she has begun. Together, the four ﬁgures form a symbolic circle representing Catherine’s unbroken legacy as generations pass on the beliefs and traditions of the Sisters of Mercy.
A young woman, seated, represents the student who becomes the teacher, continuing Catherine’s work. She looks up from her Bible study to offer encouragement to the younger girl who is learning needlework, a skill she will need to be self-sufficient. The young boy Catherine holds is barefoot, an indicator of his dire physical needs. Catherine’s face was extensively researched. It is based not only on a highly-regarded and much-loved painting, but also on images of her great, great niece, Julie McAuley, who graciously participated in facial studies. Julie shares similarities in eyes, nose, jaw line, cheek bone and overall face shape with Catherine’s image in the painting.
The Tender Way of Mercy – by artist Abraham Mohler
In striking bas relief, Catherine McAuley’s life is shown as the living embodiment of Mercy through a series of Dublin scenes with the rolling hills of Ireland from her youth in the distance.
Through windows and doorways, we see Catherine caring for those in the streets and in the House of Mercy. She is seen ministering to the young and the old, teaching, serving and offering tea. We also see her dancing with her Sisters. These images highlight Catherine’s compassion for the poor and homeless, her care for children and her love for her Sisters.
The sculpture is rich with imagery and symbolism from our past – and real glimpses into Catherine’s world. The familiar doorway to the House of Mercy is behind her as she greets a mother and her squirming son in the center of the piece. The patterned ﬂoor beneath her as she teaches children is based on the actual ﬂoor at the House of Mercy that still exists today. And we see Sisters of Mercy caring for the sick. This is Catherine’s legacy to us. She began her ministry as a laywoman and we, as laypeople – in the spirit of Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy – will continue it for generations to come.