Carlow’s Seven Mercy Sisters

Carlow celebrates 175 years since the historic departure of seven Mercy Sisters to America.

Carlow County Museum, Carlow County Council, St Leo’s College and the Mercy Convent, Carlow combined to commemorate seven nuns who set out from Carlow to establish a convent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 4th 1843 at the invitation of Bishop Michael O’Connor; 2018 marked the 175th anniversary of this amazing event.

Three men with their backs to us wearing green high visibility jackets standing outside in front of a red curtain

Staff from Carlow County Museum prepare for the unveiling of the commemoration plaque.


Bishop Denis Nulty, at a podium, speaking into a microphone outside

Bishop Denis Nulty speaking at the event

Bishop Denis Nulty, speaking before unveiling a plaque at the convent gate on Dublin Road on Sunday November 4th 2018 with Sr Kathleen Kennedy Carlow and Sr Sheila Carney, Pittsburgh,  said “we acknowledge, recognise and give thanks for the contribution of the Mercy Sisters have made to Irish life and culture – and life and culture far beyond these shores.”  He described them as seven very brave women.


In St Leo’s College, Msgr Caoimhín Ó Néill outlined the background to the 1843 journey and the work of the sisters in the United States including the founding of Mercy Hospitals, schools and Carlow University, Pittsburgh as well as further convents. “They could never have foreseen that they were the start of an outreach that would see other sisters go to the ends of the earth.  Sisters from St Leos are in Africa and Brazil, as we speak,” he said.

Sr. Kathleen Kennedy and Sr. Sheila Carney standing outside looking up at a plaque on the wall surrounded by a red curtain

The plaque is unveiled by Sr. Kathleen Kennedy, Carlow (R) and Sr. Sheila Carney, Carlow University Pittsburgh (L)

A costumed drama about the sisters journey to Pittsburgh was performed by students – which they conceived, developed and presented under the direction of Janice de BróitheSt Leo’s Chamber Choir under the direction of Mary Amond O’Brien, enthralled the full attendance and Carlow artist Justin Kelly, who recently released his first CD, performed his latest song, “The Journey”.

four St Leos girls sitting at a table wearing black robes and white bonnets as part of a playSeven St leo's student dressed in long black robes wearing white bonnets in front of a pianoTwo St Leo's student sitting at a table wearing black robes and white bonnets with a tea set on the table in front of them


Several presentations were made to Sr Sheila Carney of Carlow University, Pittsburgh including unique silver and gold art piece created by Jackie and Ed Keilthy, presented by Cathaoirleach Brian O’Donoghue and the County Carlow Flag presented by Dr. Séamus Ó Murchú, Chairperson of Carlow County Museum Board.  Carlow convent accepted seven posthumous honorary Doctorates of Humanities for the Carlow founding seven from Carlow University.

Cathaoirlach Brian O' Donoghue and Sr. Sheila Carney standing beside one another holding two black frames

Cathaoirlach Brian O’ Donoghue and Sr. Sheila Carney.



Sr Sheila Carney spoke of the contribution that each of the seven made to Pittsburgh and how they used their talents – Frances Warde (Adminstrator), Josephine Cullen (Educator), Agatha O’Brien (Business sense), Elizabeth Strange (Artist, writer and translator) and Aloysia Strange (Educator), Veronica McDarby (Portress) and Philomena Reid (Music teacher).  “These were multitalented women,” Sr Sheila said.  She read a passage from the annals of St Leo’s about the departure from St Leo’s of the sisters 175 years ago and “the air being rent with the cries of weeping parents, friends and the poor.”  She stated “It took the town of Carlow to raise these courageous, generous women.”


The event was attended by members of the Mercy order from Ireland and abroad, family members of the seven sisters, past and current staff and students of St Leo’s, public representatives, members of the public, friends and benefactors of the Mercy sisters.

“We hope we remember the Carlow Mercy Seven here in Carlow as fondly as they are remembered in Carlow University, Pittsburgh every year on Founder’s Day 21st December,” said John McDarby of Carlow County Museum.

Dr. Eimear Cotter, past pupil of St. Leos, now Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability delivered the eighth annual Catherine McAuley Lecture.  College principal, Clare Ryan, replied and Sr. Kathleen Kennedy thanked all who contributed to the day.  Proceedings in St Leo’s College ended with refreshments for all in the school refectory.

The Journey” – a concert in St Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen concluded the day.  It featured Justin Kelly, St. Fiaccs NS Choir, Fr. Liam Lawton and Patrick Bergin.



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