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US-based Mercy sisters come full circle in search of their roots

LIFE came full circle in St Leo's College, Carlow as visitors from Pittsburgh returned to their roots at the local Convent of Mercy recently.

More than 170 years after a group of nuns from the local convent travelled to Pittsburgh to establish a convent there, their descendants returned to their Carlow origins to see where it all began.

On 2 November 1843 a group of seven local nuns travelled with Bishop Michael O'Connor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to establish a convent in his diocese.

Pictured above Sister Sheila Carney with her students from Carlow University Pittsburgh on the steps of St Leo's Convent, Carlow.

The seven nuns chosen by the Reverend Mother for this mission were 33-year-old Mother Francis Xavier Warde, Sr Josephine Cullen (28), Sr Aloysia Strange (24), Sr Elizabeth Strange (22), Sr Veronica McDarby (27), Sr Philomena Reid (23) and Sr Margaret O'Brien (21).

The group, which included Fr Wilson and eight students, left Carlow in horsedrawn carriages, followed on foot by Carlow townspeople, who' prayed aloud for the departing nuns.

Together, the religious party travelled to America via a mail boat to Liverpool, followed by The Queen of the West, a threemast, 500-tonne vessel bound for New York.

The journey took four weeks and two days before the group arrived in a snow-covered Big Apple on 10 December 1843. Dr John Hughes, archbishop of New York, and William Quarter, bishop-elect of Chicago, were there to greet the travellers.

Eight days later, sisters Josephine Cullen, Elizabeth Strange, Veronica McDarby and Margaret O'Brien travelled to Pittsburgh by railway and stagecoach, arriving on 20 December.

Bishop O'Connor celebrated Mass for the sisters the following day and the anniversary of this is marked each year as Founder's Day in Carlow College, Pittsburgh.

From that day, the Carlow nuns went on to found a convent, junior school, high school, hospital and third-level college in Pittsburgh, as well as other Mercy convents in various parts of the United States. Fast forward almost 171 years, and ten visitors from Carlow University, Pittsburgh returned to Carlow soil to see where it all began.

Led by Sr Sheila Carney RSM, specialassistant to the president from Mercy heritage, the group came full circle from those who left Carlow all those years ago.

Pictured above Sister Sheila Carney with John McDarby and Ann McDarby Foley. 

On Saturday 2 August, the group visited Carlow County Museum, the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow College and, of course, St Leo's Convent of Mercy.

John McDarby of Carlow Museum and his sister Anne McDarby Foley, along with Tom and Robina Mooney, were among those who greeted the guests, alongside Sr Mary Murphy, chaplain of Carlow College.

It was a particularly special occasion for the McDarbys and the Mooneys, relatives of Sister Veronica McDarby, one
of the original seven St Leo's sisters who made that historic journey.

During their visit, the group met a number of locals, including Fr Conn Ó Maoldomhnaigh, vice-president of
Carlow College, Gerald Moore and Hugh O'Rourke at Carlow Museum, as well as a number of Mercy sisters, including Sr Philomena Griffin, Sr Nora O'Brien, Sr Maureen Keogh, Sr Frances Conway and Sr Aine Cullen.