SXU's Catholic and Mercy Identity
Founded by the Sisters of Mercy
Saint Xavier University, founded and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, extends the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ to those seeking higher education. As an officially recognized ministry of the Catholic Church1, the University grounds its core activities of teaching, learning, scholarship and service in Catholic theological principles that affirm the goodness and value of all creation and posit a view of human persons as created in the image of God and thus free, rational, relational and endowed with inherent dignity.
A Catholic University
As a Catholic university, Saint Xavier University challenges all the members of its community to search for truth, especially religious truth, and to engage in a dialogue between faith and reason that ultimately leads toward the contemplation of God's creation and social action for the common good. This search for truth demands careful observation, critical analysis, vigorous debate, personal and communal theological reflection, and ethical and engaged decision-making leading toward a life that respects both the inherent dignity of another and the worth of all creation. Setting the context for the search for truth, the University encourages its community, especially its students, to become familiar with the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition and the imperatives of Catholic social teaching. Respecting academic freedom, the University strives to be a place where the vigorous discussion of ideas can occur, especially as they relate to its mission as a Catholic university. In the spirit of respectful and critical discourse, the University welcomes the breadth of the Catholic tradition as well as the voices of other religious and non-religious communities.
A Mercy University
As a Mercy university, Saint Xavier University challenges its community members to teach, learn, research and act not only for themselves but also for others. Thus, a seminal characteristic of the University is its commitment to service. Ideally, such service, whether direct or through the University's efforts to understand and remediate unjust systems, reflects the spirituality of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy. This spirituality is grounded in the theology of the Incarnation, animated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and expressed through acts of compassion that embody the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In particular, the University community expresses special concern for those who are economically poor, especially women and children. In so doing, the University goes beyond simply passive expressions of heartfelt concern and even willingness to stand with those who suffer. It seeks to right what is wrong and restore what is broken, thereby promoting human dignity, justice and the common good.
Celebrating our Catholic and Mercy Heritage
Saint Xavier University signifies and celebrates its Catholic and Mercy heritage in its symbolic, sacramental and liturgical expressions, and in its communal and collegial ethos. The University offers many opportunities to reflect, pray, worship and access the sacraments. It symbolizes its rich faith tradition through the appropriate placement of religious symbols and artwork. Further, it observes liturgical seasons and feasts central to its Catholic and Mercy heritage and provides orientation and mentoring programs that educate the community about this identity.
Recognizing that the search for God and the celebration of God's presence is ubiquitous, the University provides opportunities for those of other faith traditions and those on a personal journey of faith to study, to express, to worship, to celebrate and to discuss their religious beliefs in a climate that is respectful, hospitable and open to all.
To summarize, offering the opportunity for higher education within a Catholic and Mercy context, Saint Xavier University honors Jesus Christ whom it recognizes as Via, Veritas, Vita -- the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn. 14:6), the motto of the University inscribed on its coat of arms.
Approved by the Board of Trustees -- March 30, 2008
Sisters of Mercy
When the Sisters of Mercy came to Chicago in 1846, they came as educators with an established reputation for quality. Their initial endeavor in the city was Saint Francis Xavier Academy for Females, the forerunner of Saint Xavier University. The faith-inspired compassionate service and educational practice derived from their Irish beginnings blossomed into works of mercy throughout the Midwest, while the work of other Sisters of Mercy carried the community's mission of compassion and service around the world. Catherine McAuley, Francis Xavier Warde and Agatha O'Brien paved the way for the Sisters of Mercy and made them what they are today.
The leadership and vision of Mother Mary Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, who began educating girls and young women in Dublin, Ireland in the 1820s, paved the way for succeeding generations of Mercys to establish highly recognized institutions of learning throughout the English-speaking world. Catherine McAuley raised the status of women through education and training, giving them the necessary skills to earn a living and to provide for themselves. Saint Xavier University is a living testament to Catherine’s vision, practical wisdom and commitment to excellence.
Practical and realistic, as well as visionary, Catherine McAuley quickly recognized that education and religious instruction, care for the sick, and a merciful response to poverty were needed in places far from Dublin and even beyond Ireland. When asked to send sisters to respond to such needs, she did so as often as possible. The result was the quick spread of the Sisters of Mercy through Ireland, to England, and shortly after Catherine McAuley’s death in 1841, to America.
In 1843, Mother Frances Xavier Warde and six sisters braved the Atlantic Ocean to establish the Sisters of Mercy in the United States. This band of pioneers was enroute to Pittsburgh, a city that became a well-spring from which the Sisters of Mercy spread to many regions of the young nation. Hidden in the future and certainly beyond Frances Xavier Warde’s imagination as she first stepped onto American soil was the fact that by the time of her death in 1884, she would have established over 82 Mercy convents, schools, hospitals, orphanages and other works of mercy in some 20 cities across nine states.
As she and her companions disembarked in New York in December 1843, however, Frances Xavier Warde’s attention was fixed on the moment and on those waiting on the dock to meet her and the sisters. Among those present was Bishop William Quarter, recently appointed to the newly created diocese of Chicago. An educator himself, Bishop Quarter wasted no time asking Frances Xavier Warde to send sisters to his frontier diocese to open schools for children and young women. Frances Warde urged patience, but she didn’t forget.
Patience and Bishop Quarter’s renewed requests brought the Sisters of Mercy to Chicago in 1846. Mother Frances Xavier Warde accompanied the group of five she’d chosen to serve in this western outpost. Among them were Mother Agatha O’Brien, superior; two novices still in training to be Sisters of Mercy; and two young women just joining the community. All were under age 25. Only one -- Agatha, who’d come from Ireland with Frances Warde -- had made her vows. They were young and inexperienced but also zealous and capable.
The Sisters of Mercy Thrive in Chicago
Within three weeks of their arrival, the first five Sisters of Mercy in Chicago had opened Saint Francis Xavier Academy for Females, named to honor Mother Frances Xavier Warde and her patron, Saint Francis Xavier. Chartered by the state of Illinois on February 27, 1847, the fledgling Academy was granted the power, among other rights, to “confer on such persons as may be considered worthy, such academical or honorary degrees as are usually conferred by similar institutions.” It was a charter that would see the institution into an unimagined future.
Though education, including establishment of the first parochial schools, was their first service to Chicago, the Sisters of Mercy were soon engaged in other works of mercy. They visited the sick in their homes and the inmates in the city jail. They nursed in temporary epidemic hospitals and cared for the children orphaned by the waves of cholera and typhoid that swept the city. By 1852, the sisters had built Mercy Hospital and Orphan Asylum, the city’s first permanent general hospital. As in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago provided safe shelter for working women or those seeking employment and held night school classes to help laborers become literate and grow in understanding their Catholic faith. From Chicago, Mother Agatha O’Brien and those who succeeded her responded to requests from other dioceses and parishes, sending sisters to other locations in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Sisters of Mercy Serve Around the World
The original endeavors of Catherine McAuley in Ireland, of Frances Xavier Warde in the United States, and of Agatha O’Brien in Chicago are now carried on by sisters and associates and colleagues in over 40 nations on all the continents except Antarctica. The original House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin is now the International Centre of the Sisters of Mercy, a place that welcomes Mercy-related visitors from all over the world. The original Chicago Sisters of Mercy are now part of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, with sisters serving in countries like Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, the Philippines, Belize, Guam, Guyana, Jamaica, Peru and the United States.
Closer to home, their early endeavors in Chicago continue to characterize the Sisters of Mercy and their service in the greater metropolitan area today. Saint Xavier Academy for Females grew and thrived, becoming today’s Saint Xavier University and Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. Mercy Hospital and Orphan Asylum is today’s Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, serving Chicagoans from its main campus near McCormick Place and from satellite clinics in many central city and South Side neighborhoods. Care for orphans segued through the decades, becoming care for physically and mentally handicapped children in the early twentieth century and continuing in a more expanded form at today’s Misericordia Home on the far North Side. The early concern about safe and decent housing continues today through Mercy Housing Lakefront, which manages more than 1,400 service-enhanced family and single occupancy housing units in the Chicago metropolitan area.
More important than the multiple ministries of the Sisters of Mercy, however, or their spread to locations around the world, is the reality that Catherine McAuley’s original vision, Frances Xavier Warde’s amazing zeal, and Agatha O’Brien’s practical generosity are now shared by thousands of Mercy colleagues who take the works of Mercy into the world, offering education, religious instruction, care for the sick and a merciful response to poverty wherever need calls out for justice and compassion.