SXU Celebrates Mercy Week
This week, Saint Xavier University (SXU) celebrated the tradition of Mercy Week, which honors Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, and the institution's Mercy identity and heritage. SXU's legacy can be traced to the arrival of the first Sisters of Mercy to Chicago in 1846. Despite some of the challenges posed by COVID-19, the University community came together to honor some old traditions and begin new ones, including participating in a collective group expression of what it means to live in Mercy and a Mercy Day walking tour.
Mercy Week activities began September 23, which was the 174th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy and their leader, Mother Frances Xavier Warde. To commemorate the occasion, Jenny DeVivo, Ph.D., executive director of Mission and Heritage, led the campus community on a Mercy Day walking tour, which spotlighted 11 significant places around campus and their connection to Saint Xavier’s heritage. The walk was an ode to the early Sisters of Mercy who were referred to as "the walking nuns" because they were often seen walking in the streets on their way to minister to the poor and the sick.
The tour began inside McDonough Chapel with the St. Francis Xavier statue. St. Francis Xavier was a Spanish Jesuit missionary and the patron of Mother Frances Xavier Warde. Together, they lend their names and inspiration to Saint Xavier. Next, the community visited the Heritage Walk, an engraved section of stone outside McDonough Chapel, which features the names of key Sisters of Mercy in history, including 10 Sisters of Mercy who have served as presidents of Saint Xavier.
The tour led attendees inside the Warde Academic Center (WAC), starting with the Catherine McAuley stained glass window, which was originally in the Saint Xavier chapel at 49th Street and Cottage Grove, dated 1901. Just a few feet away from the window is the bust of Frances Xavier Warde, who founded more convents, schools, hospitals and institutions of social welfare than any other religious leaders in the Western World. The bust was installed on Mission Day in 2018. As the community viewed the bust, DeVivo passed out prayer cards of a prayer written by Mother Warde.
The tour continued outside at Mercy Rock, which is inscribed with the names and founding dates of the 17 colleges and universities now sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy through the Conference for Mercy Higher Education (CMHE). At the head of the list is Saint Xavier, the oldest Mercy institution of higher learning in the world. Near the rock is the Academy Bell, which survived the Chicago Fire of 1871 and was used to call Sisters of Mercy to prayer and to their ministries.
Just inside the WAC entrance is the Saint Xavier seal, located in the Butler Reception Room. The seal symbolizes the proud history of Catholic education in Chicago and includes a black and white checkerboard and diagonal gold bars from the family coat of arms of St. Francis Xavier; red and gold bars and a white Jerusalem cross taken from the shield of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; an open book to represent education; and the scripture verse, "Via, Veritas, Vita," "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." (John 14:6).
The eighth site on the tour was the Bishop Quarter Room. Bishop William Quarter was the first bishop of Chicago, and despite living in very difficult conditions in Chicago, he achieved much: he administered the sacrament to hundreds of people, ordained 29 priests and established a seminary, built 30 churches and paid for them and founded schools and the nucleus of a university.
The tour finished off outdoors with stops at Lake Marion, the 49th Street Gateway Arch, and Mary’s Circle. The lake is named for Sister Marion Johnson, R.S.M., a biology faculty member who used the lake for many biological experiments. The arch, which came to campus in 2009, is a replica of the archway at Saint Xavier campus at 49th Street and Cottage Grove. Finally, Mary's Circle features a large, welcoming statue of Mary, titled "Our Lady," which expresses the Mercy spirit and University core of hospitality.
"As an alumna of SXU, my pride in my alma mater continues to grow as I learn more about our heritage. I love that part of my job is to learn our history well and share it with others," said DeVivo.
September 24, Spirit of Mercy Day, marks the day that Catherine McAuley opened the first house of Mercy in 1827. The SXU community celebrated with the Student Leader Commissioning, an annual tradition that honors University leaders at the Academy Bell. Student leaders ring the academy bell to symbolize their dedication to continue inspiring professional growth, compassion and respect among the Saint Xavier community.
All week long, members of the Saint Xavier community submitted the ways they choose to live in Mercy every day, from prayer and acts of kindness to service and leadership. The collective expressions will be made into a collage that highlights the way the community comes together in unique and important ways to live in Mercy.
"Once again, the SXU community has innovated in the face of external challenges to celebrate our heritage this week," said President Laurie M. Joyner, Ph.D. "These activities and reflections remind us of the courage, resilience, generosity and love of the Sisters of Mercy, which serve as the foundation for ongoing educational mission."