Russell, Mary Baptist, Mother

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Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy in California; b. Killowen, Ireland, April 18, 1829; d. San Francisco, Calif., Aug. 6, 1898. After a private education, she entered the nascent Order of the Sisters of Mercy in Kinsale, Ireland. Following her profession, Aug. 2, 1851, she served in the schools and attended the poor and sick in an area slowly recovering from cholera and famine. When Abp. Joseph S. Alemany, OP, of San Francisco appealed to Kinsale for a Mercy foundation, she was appointed superior of the eight volunteers. The sisters arrived in San Francisco Dec. 8, 1854, and began their services of relief to victims of poverty, disease, and immorality in a decade of physical and moral disorder in the city. Negligent officials had failed to provide the over-crowded city with sanitary facilities; competent nursing care was unavailable; and when cholera struck in 1855, the city, gratefully accepting the sisters' experienced ministrations to the stricken, gave them complete charge of the county hospital. This institution was reopened by Mother Russell in 1857 as St. Mary's Hospital, providing the West Coast with its first Catholic hospital and furnishing a permanent social service center for the city's destitute. From these beginnings, a Magdalen Asylum for delinquent girls (1855) and a home for the aged (1872) were instituted. Foundations in Sacramento (1857) and Grass Valley (1863), and service in the city hospitals during the smallpox epidemic (1868) further absorbed the zeal of the foundress, preventing her from concentrating on the critical archdiocesan school problem until 1871. That year Mother Russell opened the first of the five schools she was to establish in the next 21 years. Her apostolate as foundress and social worker, builder and administrator, nurse and educator, lasted for 44 years.

Bibliography: m. a. mcardle, California's Pioneer Sister of Mercy (Fresno 1954). m. e. morgan, Mercy, Generation to Generation (San Francisco 1957).

[m. g. davis]

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Russell, Mary Baptist, Mother

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