CHARLESTON — The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy unveiled a brand new heritage room at their motherhouse on James Island.
The room is filled with photos, artifact boxes and information boards that would put a museum to shame. It showcases the history of the order from its inception in 1829 under Bishop John England to its present-day ministry serving the poor.
A timeline runs the length of the largest wall while antiques hold places of honor in the corners and along smaller walls.
Sisters Anne Francis Campbell and Ann Billard, who spent a year putting the room together, said the hardest part was trying to condense their long history into nuggets of information. The order will celebrate 180 years on Dec. 8.
Sister Anne Francis, who wrote the information, and Sister Ann, who scanned and digitalized all the photos, worked with Carol Poplin from The History Workshop to achieve a highly professional finished product.
But neither sister will take credit for the idea, saying it is the brainchild of Sister Bridget Sullivan, general superior.
Sister Ann said inspiration for the heritage room struck while she and Sister Bridget were in Sydney, Australia, to host a retreat for the Sisters of Mercy. They had taken some free time to tour St. Mary’s Cathedral, where they saw a room dedicated to the history of the Archdiocese of Sydney.
“We looked at each other and we knew. Bridget said: ‘We’ve got to get this done for us,’” Sister Ann said. She added that they felt it was important to put their story out for the people of the diocese and their own sisters.
It took time to incorporate all the ideas and prepare the room, but on Sept. 5, the heritage room was officially opened to the sisters living in the Diocese of Charleston, Sister Anne Francis said.
“It was open all day,” Sister Ann said. “The sisters could just come and sit and let the history permeate.”
Then on Sept. 26, a grand unveiling was held for all the associates of Our Lady of Mercy. The public also is invited to view the room by appointment by calling (843) 795-6083.
Highlights of the room are hard to pinpoint as each visitor is drawn to something different. The women religious have stories to tell about them all.
“When the sisters start talking about their days at camp they just come to life,” Sister Ann said.
Sister Anne Francis recalled how they would “teach religion by the tides,” meaning that when tide was high all the children went swimming, and when it was low, they learned their religion lessons.
Other items of interest are the antiques at either end of the room. One is Mother Teresa Barry’s desk from 1840, complete with some of her handwritten letters, and the other is a large vestment case from the Legare Street chapel.
“I’m so glad to have that,” said Sister Anne Francis with a smile. “It covers a whole wall where I didn’t have to write a word.”
It was a lot of work for the two sisters, but the results are worth it. Still, they said they will leave any further additions to future generations.