In 1901, a small group of Sisters of Mercy moved their convent and school from overcrowded quarters on Second Street to a new building at 1176 E. Broadway, and the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy reopened its doors.This year, Mercy Academy celebrates 100 years at its "new" location. In March, the school will hold an all-class reunion weekend, during which a bronze statue of the order's founder, Mother Mary Catherine McAuley, will be unveiled. The statue will be the second of six produced by Nebraska artist Sondra Jonson, the first of which stands in front of Mercy High School in Omaha, Neb.
The statue will stand just inside a recently completed arched entryway that faces Broadway.
The entrance was designed in the style of the original facade of the building and holds a replica of the school's original nameplate. A canopy over double doors inside the entrance is similar to the entrance to the first house of Mercy opened by McAuley in Dublin, Ireland, and the cross atop the canopy reflects the first one over the school's original front door.
"We've tried to pack as much history into about 150 square feet as we possibly could," said Mercy principal Mike Johnson.
Sister Mary Prisca Pfeffer, a former principal who wrote "In Love and Mercy," a history of Louisville's Sisters of Mercy, has been a part of many of Mercy's last 100 years. She graduated from the high school in 1932 and entered the convent in 1934.
According to Pfeffer, the Sisters of Mercy began in Louisville as nurses, not teachers. Six members of the order -- who were teachers -- arrived in 1869 at the request of a local bishop to help out at the Old U.S. Marine Hospital in Portland, which was short of nurses.
Eventually, the hospital stopped accepting new patients and closed, but the sisters, whose numbers had grown, decided to stay. They attempted to teach on West Jefferson Street for a brief time before moving on to a site on South Second Street.
In 1872, the sisters began holding day classes under the name St. Catherine's Academy, with an elementary school for boys and girls, an industrial school with night classes for young women, and later a secondary school for girls. The first high school diploma from the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy was awarded in 1885.
Pfeffer and Johnson said today's Mercy students have the same spirit as the girls of that era -- a combination of hard work, scholarship and openness.
"The girls know that no matter what their background, they're on equal ground. That's a strong part of the Mercy spirit," Johnson said.He recalled something one of the workers who helped with the recent renovations said to him. The man, who had helped with a previous addition to the school as well, said he loved working on the building because it was so well-made.
"I think the building in many ways represents the educational program of the school," Johnson said. "The foundation is solid. Some things change, but the basis endures.
"It's an ongoing story in a building that's never finished."
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