Religious Sisters of Mercy celebrate 50th anniversary

 Alma, Mich., Sisters enter a jubilee year; Knoxville convent marks milestone

By Gabrielle Nolan

The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., have entered into a jubilee year of celebration.

Sept. 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the religious order’s founding, which occurred in 1973.

Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, who serves as medical director for the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, gives the reading during a Mass to mark the jubilee year for the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich.

Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, who serves as the superior of the Knoxville community, said the anniversary is a “time of great gratitude.”

“It’s a time to look at all the blessings of those years and to thank the Lord for where we’re at right now and to look forward to the future. I think it’s just a year of gratitude and thanksgiving for the Lord’s mercy to us,” she said.

The religious order opened its convent doors on Sept. 1 for an open house that included Mass, social time, and adoration.

“It was nice to have a full chapel and friends from our apostolate or from over the years here in Knoxville,” Sister Mary Lisa said. “I thought it was a beautiful turnout, and I’m glad that everyone was able to come.”

Father Christopher Floersh, parochial vicar at St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut, celebrated Mass in the convent’s Mercy Chapel. Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor for the Diocese of Knoxville, served as deacon of the Word.

“I’ve often talked about the different vocations as a former vocations director, and I think about when I use different analogies, certainly marriage is the first and easiest one to describe when we speak about people who have fallen in love for 50-plus years,” Father Floersh said in his homily.

Father Christopher Floersh celebrates the anniversary Mass for the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., at the Sisters’ convent in Knoxville on Sept. 1.

“Over time, what it requires is somebody to fall in love with every aspect of the individual,” he continued. “Marriage is the beginning of that love, and over the course of a lifetime we can say this individual truly loved their spouse because they were willing to give up their whole lives and love them in good times and in bad, as we say, and everything that comes with it.”

“And then when I speak about people who are interested in joining the religious life or joining the priesthood … one of my questions has always been: what did you fall in love with? Perhaps it’s the beautiful liturgies, perhaps it’s the Gospels, the understanding of Christ, all of the respective Bible. … Perhaps it’s that ministry that has been inspired by Christ to serve others. Music, beautiful architecture, art, whatever it may be, stories of the saints, hold on to that and know that that love should always be there. But in order to become a religious, in order to become a priest, in order to enter into that life, fall in love with every aspect of the Church, every single aspect,” Father Floersh shared.

He noted that the celebration of the jubilee year goes beyond 50 years.

“It goes beyond that because that love is not only for the individual Sisters that we have here, the individual Sisters part of the community but also the love of the community itself, 50 years. The love of religious since has been the foundation of the Church. The brides of Christ, that love that even the communities share in, the parents, the grandparents, everyone who brought this community into existence now, who is serving us now, and that is the key, the servants, brides of Christ living out that promise as servants,” the diocesan priest said.

Father Floersh advised that anyone entering into religious life should be “scared about what you’re going to get into.”

Sister Mary Timothea Elliott, RSM, a Scripture scholar, gives the reading during Mass to mark the 50th anniversary of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich.

“Be fearful because in this process you will lose yourself. You will die to yourself and everything that you love about yourself, but you will gain Christ. You will gain Christ, and you will become Christ. In other words, you will shed the sinful part of yourself and give up everything in order to love Christ fully. This is one of the most impactful things that we can all follow, certainly the examples of the brides of Christ but also the example of the Christian life. We can give up ourselves, all of the pain, all of the suffering, give all of that up and allow Christ to take it, even the good parts that we love about ourselves,” he said.

Father Floersh concluded his homily by saying that more individuals will continue to join the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., because of “the love of God.”

“This is what we’re celebrating, 50 years of true and stable and loving community that has served our diocese, that has served dioceses all over the world, this kind of commitment to God is who we are celebrating,” he said.

Sister Mary Lisa noted that for anyone who prays in their Mercy Chapel during the jubilee year, there is a gift of a plenary indulgence.

“I think particularly for our diocese in this time of transition, it’s a time of particular prayer,” she said. “We’re hoping that this can be an opportunity for grace for the people of the diocese, so we’re just encouraging people to come and pray with us. For us, too, we’re looking forward to that time of grace and growing together as a local community.”

Members of the diocese are welcome to pray in the Mercy Chapel on any Saturday for either individual prayer or to join the Sisters’ holy hour, which takes place at 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Those interested should contact the Sisters to let them know they are coming.

Deacon Sean Smith, Diocese of Knoxville chancellor, gives Communion to Sister Mary Simone Haakansson, RSM, during the golden jubilee Mass for the Religious Sisters of Mercy.

Janette Irwin, who attended the open house with a neighbor who invited her, said it was a “wonderful day.”

“It feels like I’m with family when I’m with them, and I could understand how there is so much mercy and kindness that is shown through these Sisters. I love them,” Ms. Irwin said.

She said that she thinks the religious Sisters bring hope to the diocese.

“I think because they’re here and they’re reaching out to the less fortunate, I think that they are what we need as Catholics; we need to do that also,” she said.

For anyone interested in praying in the Mercy Chapel at the Knoxville convent, contact the Religious Sisters of Mercy at or call the Knoxville convent
at 865-690-9266.

For more information on the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., visit their website at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *