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Mercy’s last sister leaves KC, ending her command service here after 134 years

Sister Jeanne Christensen, the last member of the Mercy Sisters still working in Kansas City, packed her electric blue Corolla and returned to her hometown of Omaha last week, ending her command service here after 134 years.

The women of Kansas City in particular have reason to thank her and all those who came before her for this service. Because the sisters came to get us, my sisters.

They have been doing this ever since the order’s founder, Catherine McAuley, spent her inheritance to open the first House of Mercy as a shelter and school for women and girls in Dublin in 1827. But their history in Kansas City began August 2. 1887, when Sr. Mary Agnes Dunne arrived from Kentucky to set up a home for young workers living alone in what Sr. Kathleen O’Brien, author of a story of the Mercy Sisters, called it “newly great and unscrupulous town. “

Sister Mary Agnes Dunne, the first Sister of Mercy in Kansas City, who arrived here on August 2, 1887 to open a home for working women.

The sisters also opened a family residence, St. Catherine’s Home, 11th Street and Forest Avenue. They taught generations of Kansas City children in a number of different schools and in the early years sometimes slept in their classrooms as the Sixth Street and Cherry Street Women’s House was so crowded.

When Christensen moved here in 1967, barely a year after graduating from college, she also taught and lived in the store, so to speak, in a convent above St. Peter’s School.

Most of his career, however, has been in building affordable housing – and, it’s no exaggeration to say, building a more just world.

Housing rehabilitated East Side, worked with victims of abuse

In 1985, she founded Mercy Housing KC, which still develops and builds safe and affordable housing for families. “I was the executive director, the grant writer, the whole thing,” rehabilitating homes on the East Side. When she worked with banks on financing, “I was known as’ Here comes Sister; she wants a deal. “On the side, she ran an eight-plex, ‘to help pay for what I was doing.’

The goal, as she always saw it, was for the children to be proud to get off the school bus in front of their homes. “We had up to 90 families by the time I stopped” a dozen years later. Yet with some 3,000 families on the waiting list for Section 8 housing, “there were still 90 other families right behind them.”

Christensen also wanted to help build a safer and more equitable church. As the director of peace and justice for Kansas City-St. Diocese of Joseph under the leadership of Bishop Raymond Boland, she spent four years as a victim advocate for 40 people who had been mistreated by the clergy and one whose brother had been mistreated and then committed suicide.

This was from 2000 to 2004, at the height of the first Catholic clergy abuse scandal. “Among all those we have met, a was not credible; he wanted money. The pain of everyone else was so real that “you become like a secondary victim and learn to deal with it”.

Then, in 2005, Boland retired “and I think you know the story of Bishop Finn”, who replaced him. “I could not continue to lead the Office of Peace and Justice with integrity under the leadership of Bishop Finn,” who cut the office’s budget in half during his first week on the job and was “very destructive. Of his work with victims. “I don’t think I could work in an institutional system that I felt was acting unfairly,” she told the National Catholic Reporter at the time. Amen, sister.

Sadly, I know Bishop Robert Finn, whose incompetence was ultimately overshadowed by his vicious legal campaign against victims of abuse. He later became the only American bishop to be convicted of failing to report a priest suspected of child sexual abuse to authorities.

After moving away from this explosion, from which the diocese is still recovering, Christensen went to work for the justice team of his order, working against racism and for non-violence, immigrants, the environment and the place. legitimacy of women in the Catholic Church and in society. .

And finally, in recent years, Christensen has co-founded US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, a nonprofit that employs paid staff from the young secular woman Christensen considers his successors.

“We saved Mary. She is now on my balcony.

In the past 18 months, “I was the last one in Kansas City, and I left because I was the last “Mercy Sister” in town. “I didn’t join the community to be alone.”

Mercy’s last sister leaves KC, ending her command service here after 134 years

Sister Jeanne Christensen and a friend saved this statue of the Virgin Mary from the old abandoned house in Kansas City of the Sisters of Mercy Convent and St. Agnes Academy.

So she has just returned to the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest’s parent house – in one of the Order’s three Omaha apartment buildings on the original campus of her central office, in fact, where each floor is find common rooms for prayer and potlucks. At 77, she is not retiring, but will continue to advocate against trafficking from there.

Looking back on it all – among the many “Why did you join?” questions which then gave way to “Why did you stay?” while many others haven’t – she says what few people can do: “I was talking to a newbie via Zoom and said I had no regrets. Nothing. I am part of the last chapter “in Kansas City,” but the Book of Mercy is not closed. The epilogue is our legacy, the people we served.

Before leaving town, she and a friend stopped at the group’s former convent, also the home of the Académie Sainte-Agnès, which had long since been sold, emptied and vandalized, and commissioned the abandoned statue with the Virgin Mary who always stood in front of the sedan too. “We saved Mary. She is now on my balcony in Omaha.

There has always been, and I say it with admiration, a little outlaw among the Sisters of Mercy. Without it, they would never have shown up here in the first place.

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