The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma have taken an active role in the Diocese of Knoxville, working in many levels of the diocese including schools, Catholic Charities, and health care.
On Sept. 1, 1973, a small community of nine Sisters of Mercy was inaugurated as a new religious foundation by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in Rome. At that time they were living on the homestead of Mother Maureen McDonald, RSM, located in Kawkawlin, Mich.
The Sisters immediately requested and received the benevolent approval from Bishop Francis Reh to settle in the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., in order to establish their Motherhouse. Bishop Reh asked them to locate in Alma, Mich., and they soon found a home in Alma.
Within the first month, the Sisters accepted four women as their first postulants. After a few years, their Constitutions were approved as a Pontifical Institute, which enables them to respond to the needs of the universal Church throughout the world.
At this time the community numbers about 100 members and has houses in several states as well as Germany, Australia and Italy.
Two members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., with direct ties to the Diocese of Knoxville recently took important steps in their vocation.
Sister Seán Marie Striby, who serves in the diocese, professed her first vows Aug. 15 on the Feast of the Assumption. And former Notre Dame High School faculty member Jenny Rittgers, who was given the name Sister Paul Mary, completed her first year as a postulant and has entered the novitiate.
Sister Seán Marie professed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which are common to all religious, men and women, as well as a fourth vow of service to the poor, sick, and ignorant, which is specific to her community.
First vows are professed in the Religious Sisters of Mercy after three years of living in the community. The first year is calledpostulancy. A sister is received into the novitiate in the second year, which is for a two-year period.
The first year is the canonical year of novitiate, so called because it is required by canon law for every religious institute. It is a time to study more in depth the religious life, the community, and to develop a deeper prayer life.
The second year of novitiate is an apostolic year during which a sister receives an assignment and has the opportunity to live the religious life with an apostolate and to begin to incorporate this active service with her prayer life.
Sister Seán Marie spent her second year of novitiate in Knoxville performing in Episcopal Residence Administration.
After completing three years, a sister requests permission to profess vows. First vows are professed for a three-year period, and after this time they are renewed for another two years, followed by perpetual profession.
In all, it takes eight years from entrance into postulancy until perpetual profession. The ceremony for first vows is a simple ceremony held at the Motherhouse and takes place within Mass after the homily, with each Sister reading her profession that she has handwritten. Then after professing their vows, they are accepted by the Superior General and the Sisters sign the vows on the altar. They are accepted and sign the vows before receiving the black veil. After each sister has professed vows, she is clothed with her new black veil to replace the white veil of a novice.