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Mercy Mission: HOME

The statue of Mary at the SXC campus, entitled Our Lady of Mercy

The statue of Mary at the SXC campus, entitled Our Lady of Mercy

The Mercy Mission at Saint Xavier University

Saint Xavier University, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846, is the first Mercy Institution of Higher Learning in the United States. It is Chicago's oldest Catholic University.  Saint Xavier University has many offices that support our Mercy mission.  This guide gives access to these resources, materials from the Library's collection, and links to online content.

Catherine McAuley, Founder of the Sisters of Mercy


Literature/Videos About the Mercy Mission

Catherine McAuley

Books about The Sisters of Mercy

Journal articles about The Sisters of Mercy

Encyclopedia article about The Sisters of Mercy

Book about the History of SXU and the Sisters of Mercy

Sisters of Mercy - short history

The Sisters of Mercy

Founder and sponsor of Saint Xavier University, the religious congregation of the Sisters of Mercy originated in Dublin, Ireland. Today, more than 6,000 Sisters of Mercy, along with Mercy Associates and Companions, serve in more than 40 countries around the world on every continent except Antarctica. Within that global Mercy community, the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas accounts for more than 2,500 Sisters and some 3,000 Mercy Associates and Companions working in almost a dozen Central and South American nations, the Caribbean, Guam, the Philippines, and the United States. Through its Conference for Mercy Higher Education, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas sponsor or co-sponsor 17 colleges and universities in the United States, including Saint Xavier University. These Mercy institutions of higher education serve over 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

A Brief History

Founded in 1831 by Mother Mary Catherine McAuley, and quickly dubbed "the walking Sisters," the congregation of Roman Catholic women now known as the Sisters of Mercy moved beyond convent walls to walk amid and serve the poor, the sick and the uneducated of their day. Such "secular" work outside the convent was unusual at the time because most communities of women religious were cloistered, working only within convent walls. The availability of these new Sisters of Mercy, to carry the works of mercy to those in need, caused the congregation to spread with unusual rapidity. These were women "capable of combining personal spirituality with a pioneering spirit of initiative and independence," as the American founder Mother Frances Xavier Warde once put it.

In 1843, seven Sisters of Mercy left Ireland for Pittsburgh, the first Mercy Foundation in the United States. In 1846, the educational needs of Irish immigrants and others drew the Sisters of Mercy from Pittsburgh to a pioneer town called Chicago. Under the guidance of Mother Frances Xavier Warde, for whom the Warde Academic Center at Saint Xavier University is named, five Sisters of Mercy, all under the age of 25, arrived in a diocese that was barely three years old. The first and only group of women religious in Chicago for the next 10 years, the Sisters quickly established St. Francis Xavier Female Academy, the forerunner of Saint Xavier University and Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. Within eight years of their arrival, all but one of the original group of SXU founders had died, most as a result of the nursing care they gave to victims of the epidemic diseases that periodically swept through the city. But other women had joined the Sisters of Mercy, devoting themselves to spreading the Good News of the Gospel by their good example, their prayer, their tireless acts of compassion and hospitality, and their institutional ministries.

Since 1846, Saint Xavier University has benefited from the continuous support of the Sisters of Mercy. The names of the Chicago Mercy pioneers and the Sister of Mercy Presidents are inscribed in the Mercy Heritage Walk leading into McDonough Chapel. These names recall the respect, compassion, hospitality, service and excellence with which the Sisters of Mercy have endowed SXU. Today, together with their lay faculty and staff colleagues, who increasingly and most ably share the responsibility for grounding the teaching and learning mission at Saint Xavier University in its Catholic and Mercy heritage, the Sisters of Mercy continue their mission of serving "the poor, the sick and the uneducated" in the name of Jesus Christ.

SXU History

The history of SXU is described in the following online book:
First in Chicago: a History of Saint Xavier Universityby Joy Clough, RSM (Sisters of Mercy)

The paper book is found in our paper collection at LD4865.S32 C56 1997: 
First in Chicago: a History of Saint Xavier University, by Joy Clough, RSM (Sisters of Mercy)

HIstorical Mission-Related Material

The Saint Xavier College self study : the liberal education of the Christian person : a progress report compiled by the combined faculties of Saint Xavier College and related elementary and secondary schools, submitted to the director of the Fund for the Advancement of Education.
Published: Chicago, Ill. : The College, c1953.  (digital copy available soon)

Location: Special Collections (Non-Circulating)
Call Number: 376.8 S15fL 1953

The Second Vatican Council, fully the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum) and informally known as Vatican II, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, from October 11, 1962 -December 8,1965.

Shortly after this momentus event, many of the key theologians met on our campus for a "John XXIII Vatican II Theology Symposium" 

A Theology Symposium: The theological task confronting the church today : March 31-April 3. 1966 Saint Xavier College. Chicago, Ill. : Saint Xavier College, 1966.

Ten of the world's foremost Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox theologians participated in a 4-day symposium sponsored by Saint Xavier College. Each of the theologians delivered an address on a different theological problem confronting Christianity today. The talks were original contributions to the field, with concentrations on the development of doctrine as a prerequisite to the solution of theological differences and units. Some of the topics included combating atheism, women as priests, and the concept of God in relation to man.

The actual symposium papers are recorded in:

The Word in history; the St. Xavier symposium, by Burke, Thomas Patrick Published 1966.
Call Number: BT80 .B8 1966
Location: Special Collections (Non-Circulating)


A related video item is:

Remembering the Pope John XXIII symposium: [videorecording] : the theological task confronting the church today
Patrick Burke, PhD.
Main Floor Audiovisual--SXU Patrons Only
DVD Number 1340



See an online copy of the ephemeral planning documents and rosters from one of the four original paper scrapbooks:  The theological task confronting the church today : a theology symposium, March 31-April 3, 1966Call Number: BT80 .T48 1966  Location: Special Collections (Non-Circulating)

Mercy Mission Organizations

Within Saint Xavier University:

  • The Sisters of Mercy -- a short history and listing of Celebration dates.
  • SXU's Catholic and Mercy Identity -- describes how a Saint Xavier University education is informed by Mercy traditions and identities; sets forth how the University aspires to be Catholic and Mercy in all areas of its academic and communal life.
  • SXU's Office for Mission Integration and Mercy Heritage -- assists the Saint Xavier University community to be more focused on, intentional about, and accountable for pursuing its educational mission as a Catholic and Mercy institution.

Beyond Saint Xavier University:

  • Sisters of Mercy -- official web site listing activities, and ways to become involved.
  • Sisters of Mercy Facebook page
  • Sisters of Mercy Twitter page.
  • Conference for Mercy Higher Education -- responsible for the preservation and development of the core Catholic identity and mission of Mercy higher education in accord with the spirit, mission, and heritage of the Sisters of Mercy.
  • Mercy International Association -- an organization of the leaders of Mercy Congregations, Institutes and Federations throughout the world, founded to serve the Sisters of Mercy, their associates and colleagues in ministry.

Student History Projects


Part 1: Founding of the Sisters of Mercy

Part 2: Saint Xavier Academy, 1846 to 1915

Part 3: Saint Xavier University, 1915 to 1970

Part 4: Saint Xavier University, 1970 to the present


STUDENT DOCUMENTARY class work:  suite of videos about the Sisters of Mercy and SXU


Sister Cathleen interview (mp3 audio) by Julia Gochee.

SXU Historical Images Database

SXU History Photograph Collection (from the University Archives)

We are building a finding aid and a database of selected images from our Archives photograph collection.

Entry points will be:

  • Important People (Sisters, Presidents, Faculty, Visitors)
  • Important Places (historical buildings and sites)
  • Important Events
  • Themes over Time (i.e. Diversity, Fashion, Candid Shots, etc.)


Catholic Newspapers Online (CNO) links to more than two hundred newspapers, and provides easy access to current issues of many diocesan, national, and student newspapers. 


The Saint Xavier University shield was designed by art department faculty member Sister Mary Solina Hicks, R.S.M. and represents:

--the black and white checkerboard, and the diagnal gold bars are from the family coat of arms of Saint Francis Xavier, the Jesuit patron of Mother Frances Xavier Warde, founder of Saint Xavier University.

--the red and gold bars, and the white Jerusalem cross are from the shield of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas;

--the open book depicts education;

--the University’s Latin motto of "Via, Veritas, Vita," “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).


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