Stewardship of St. Mary’s Hospital artifacts overseen by Sisters of Mercy

In 2011, when St. Mary’s Medical Center was sold to an investor-owned organization, St. Mary’s seller Catholic Healthcare Partners stipulated in the agreement that all religious and historical artifacts would remain the possession of the Sisters of Mercy.

When the Sisters of Mercy knew St. Mary’s was closing on Dec. 28, 2018, the religious community’s leadership, following consultation with Bishop Richard F. Stika, provided guidelines regarding disposition of the artifacts.

This involved about 20 statues, crucifixes of various sizes, Stations of the Cross, religious art, nativity sets, chapel items, and other items.

In support of mission parishes, Father Steve Pawelk, a Glenmary Home Missioners priest who formerly was pastor of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Maynardville, chose several items that would be fitting for the new St. Teresa Parish. In recognition of the Sisters of Mercy’s long community service at St. Joseph School, principal Andy Zengel chose statues and items useful for the renovated school chapel. Other items were offered to priests and diocesan organizations.

These statues were originally mounted on a marble wall on the ground floor of the Annunciation wing, which opened in March 1966.

Before she died in 1963, Sister Mary Annunciata had developed plans for this new addition, which was named in her honor. At that time, it was the main entrance for the hospital. People who were to be admitted signed in at a small desk on the right-hand end of the wall and had a seat in the waiting area behind the wall. Admitting and other business offices were to the right. Sister Emmanuel sat behind the small table during times of heavy admissions.

The crew that removed the statues from St. Mary’s was able to save the dedication plaque, which is now attached to the brick below the statues at St. Joseph.

The Sisters of Mercy have a long and storied history in East Tennessee. In 1896, the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Knoxville to teach at St. Mary School, adjacent to Immaculate Conception Church on Vine Avenue in downtown. This school closed in 1970.

In 1908, the Sisters of Mercy opened Holy Ghost School on Central Street in Knoxville. Then, when St. Joseph School opened in 1963 near Fountain City, the Sisters continued there until Sister Jolita Hughes’ death in February 2001.

In 1930, the Sisters of Mercy opened St. Mary’s Memorial Hospital amid the Depression. Over 120 Sisters served at St. Mary’s until the hospital closed on Dec. 28, 2018.

Sisters of Mercy have served in schools throughout East Tennessee, including Knoxville Catholic High School, Sacred Heart School in Knoxville, and St. John Neumann School in Farragut; St. Dominic School in Kingsport; St. Mary School in Johnson City; St. Elizabeth School in Elizabethton; and Our Lady of Fatima School in Alcoa.

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