As a result of continuous request on the part of Canon John Kyne, Parish Priest of Brentwood, for a small community to teach in the Schools and visit the sick, St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy, Chelsea, established a branch House I the town in 1872. Initially there was no Convent, so the Canon generously vacated the Presbytery in favour of Mother M. Ignatius O’Keeffe and her two companions and took up temporary abode in a small cottage nearby.
The Sisters soon experienced the great generosity of a local benefactress, Countess Helen Tasker, who had a Convent built for them beside the Church (later to become the Cathedral). In appreciation of her very generous gift, the Convent was dedicated to St Helen. Her benefactions continued throughout the remaining thirteen years of her life in the building of a school and orphanage for girls (which she partially endowed) in the grounds. Even after the Countess’ death the Community continued to be indebted to her since she had left by Will an endowment for the education of orphan boys. To fulfil her wishes, Shenfield Lodge, situated a short distance from St Helen’s, was purchased, converted into a home with a school attached and gradually developed into an Industrial Institution which did admirable work.
When the Diocese of Brentwood was established in 1917, St Helen’s Church became the Cathedral. The Mercy Apostolates extended to include Religious Instruction and Visitation of Catholics in Harlow and Wickford while, in 1928, St Helen’s School was divided into Senior and Junior departments. Post-World War II reorganisations led to St Helen’s becoming a Junior School and alter to a separate (new) Infant’s School. At the beginning of the 1970’s, the Diocese’s need for a pastoral Centre led to the building of a new Convent (in Sawyer’s Hall Lane) near the Junior School. So, after over a century in the Convent on queens Road, the Community moved into its new abode in 1974. Part of the old was retained and part was demolished and rebuilt, the whole forming spacious Diocesan offices conveniently situated beside the Cathedral.
The Inaugural Chapter of the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (September 1983) elected its first Superior General and chose Brentwood as the location of the Generalate – on an interim basis – a choice which was confirmed by the 2nd Session of the Chapter. The Convent was eminently suitable, having accommodation immediately available, containing a lovely Chapel, and being situated near main motorways and stations. From 1985-87 the Novices were also accommodated in Brentwood, but moved to Colchester in the latter year.
A decision of the 2nd General Chapter to move the Generalate from Brentwood had far-reaching effects on the Community. When the actual move took place (1989), the building, which had for sometime been too large for the Community needs, became the National Training Centre for Evangelisation run by the Sion Community. Provision had been made for more elderly Sisters to Hornchurch, where the Convent had been equipped to cater for their special needs.
A new Convent was set up in a small house in Priests Lane, so the Mercy presence in Brentwood continues, and the active apostolates are maintained.
The Sisters of Mercy are present in Ethiopia with the ministry of Sr. Rosario, a member of the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy, Great Britain. Rosario ministers at Samara University where she has been involved in the development and delivery of education courses. This university was set up in 2005 and it is still an active building site. In a recent e-mail, she said: ‘six thousand students are packed into various spaces on the expanding building site but they take the dust, smells and overflowing sewage pipes as normal.’
Rosario ministers in Ethiopia through Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).
Ethiopia in eastern Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 170th out of 177 countries on the 2004 Human Development Index. More than three quarters of its population lives on less than $1 a day. Its poverty-stricken economy is based on agriculture, and this sector suffers from frequent droughts and poor cultivation practices.