A few years ago, Julie Jones witnessed firsthand the respect Mercy employees have for the different backgrounds of co-workers, patients and visitors after the unexpected death of a co-worker.
This particular co-worker was from India and of the Hindu faith. Since his family was back in his home country and had few financial resources, co-workers raised thousands of dollars to transport his body back to India for a proper burial.
They also held a prayer service with his team members, which included a chant for peace performed by other co-workers of the Hindu faith.
“It was one of those moments where I felt so proud to be part of Mercy because we helped him have a proper burial and our interfaith prayer offered his colleagues comfort, and honored everyone’s religious traditions,” said Jones, vice president of mission and ministry at Mercy. “I remember thinking that this is just what Mercy is.”
This tradition of respect for individuals of all backgrounds is deeply rooted in scripture, the Catholic tradition and the beliefs and practices of Mercy’s founders — Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy.
When the Sisters of Mercy first came to the United States from Ireland in 1843, it was with a mission to help the sick, economically poor and those who were vulnerable to discrimination. They did this by building hospitals and schools and by also honoring the dignity of everyone they encountered.
“If you look at the early tradition of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States who came over with the waves of Catholic immigrants, they started ministries to serve the needs of the community,” Jones said. “When they saw a need, they met it, regardless of a person’s religious beliefs. Through their ministry, they trusted that people would see God in their work.”
As the fifth largest Catholic health care system in the nation serving multiple states, Mercy’s mission is to bring to life the healing ministry of Jesus through compassionate care and exceptional service. This is achieved in several ways, including honoring the dignity of every person and pledging to be in right relationships with one another, regardless of a person’s social, cultural or religious traditions.
“One of the great beauties and joys about Mercy is that we all understand that we may worship in a different way each week and pray differently, but we are all worshipping in the name of the same God,” said Tom Edelstein, vice president of mission and ethics for Mercy in Oklahoma. “Faith brings us together under the umbrella of God’s love and we see that every day at Mercy.”
Mercy treats patients and hires employees from diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs. At many of Mercy’s facilities, religious texts are available for different religions based on the composition of the local community.
Here are several examples of how Mercy has embraced people from different faith traditions and cultures beyond those of the Roman Catholic faith:
Culturally and religiously sensitive care:
Honoring the dead:
To commemorate Pope Francis’ “Holy Year of Mercy” last year, Mercy Hospital Fort Smith raised about $600,000 from the community to renovate the hospital’s chapel and create several sacred spaces for patients, visitors and co-workers to meditate and pray. One of those rooms is designated as an “interfaith prayer room,” and has copies of religious texts from several different religions and prayer rugs.
“Pope Francis was opening up the door of mercy to all and we recognized that we needed to open the door, not just of the physical space, but the door of our hearts to those in need,” said Martin Schreiber, vice president of mission for Mercy Hospital Fort Smith.
One example of this occurred after a Mercy nurse saw a physician of Islamic faith praying in the interfaith prayer room and asked him if something was wrong since he was praying. The physician told the nurse, who is a Christian, that in his faith he is required to pray several times a day. At that point, the nurse asked the physician if he would like to go back into the interfaith prayer room and pray together.
“This example really goes back to what the Sisters of Mercy started with, which is a sense of oneness,” Schreiber said.
It is mercy in action.
“Because we believe God created each person with dignity, we honor every person and we come together as one in faithful service of others,” Jones said. “Mercy is not something we can turn on and off. It is who we are.”