Mother of Mercy High School celebrates 100 years
One hundred years ago, a group of women religious turned an old farmhouse in Westwood into a high school for young women and built a legacy that is still solid a century later.
Mother of Mercy High School is celebrating its centennial. It opened Sept. 7, 1915, with just two students. But, because it was not uncommon for young women to quit school to go to work during that time, Mercy didn’t have its first class of graduates until 1920. Anna May Olding’s mother, Ruth Bywater Franey, was one of the three students who earned a diploma that year.
My mother always said she had the best education. It was such a wonderful way to go to school,” said Olding.
Generations of young women have passed through the doors of Mercy in the past 100 years. Establishing the school was a grass roots effort by the Sisters of Mercy.
“When the nuns were coming out here, they went around to the Catholic schools in the area and talked to people and told them they’d be opening this school,” Olding recalls her mother telling her.
Olding grew up in New Jersey and didn’t attend Mercy. But her four daughters did, and now some of her granddaughters do.
The farmhouse at Epworth Avenue and Werk Road was eventually replaced by a big brick building that’s increased in size over the years. The school has changed with the times. Blackboards and chalk, pencils and paper are so last century. Today’s Mercy girl lives in a digital world and studies using an iPad. Classes on technology, the environment and engineering are options in a course load that includes literature, languages and math.
“I really like that they prepare students to be leaders and also be strong in the Catholic faith,” said Ellen Garbsch, class of 2016. “Mercy is also really strong academically, and that makes Mercy girls stand out in the community.”
The school held a few events to mark its major milestone. The front façade and iconic front steps were restored for the occasion.
On Sept. 19, alumnae, friends of Mercy and members of the local community were invited to Mass in the school’s gym celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer. A reception followed on the front lawn with food, music and booths the entire family could enjoy. The school was opened for tours so graduates could see how much the school has changed and how much of it has stayed the same.
Sept. 24 was a significant day in the celebration. It’s known as Mercy Day. It is the feast of Our Lady of Mercy and the day that the Sisters of Mercy were founded in Ireland by Catherine McAuley. So it was fitting that the centennial be formally recognized with proclamations from Mayor John Cranley, Congressman Steve Chabot, Governor John Kasich and County Commissioner Greg Hartmann.
Many of those who couldn’t attend still reflect fondly on their years spent on Werk Road. “I look back at it as a time when we were strengthening our faith and learning good morals and values that our parents taught us at home but were reinforced at school,” said Mary Jo Nienaber Stegman, class of 1980. Stegman said she formed many great friendships at Mercy that she still maintains today.
Catherine McAuley once said, “No work of charity can be more productive of good to society than the careful instruction of women.”
The curriculum and the campus will continue to change as Mother of Mercy evolves to meet the needs of its students. But the core values of faith, compassion, service, leadership and excellence will remain the standard.
This story by freelance writer Patricia McGeever first appeared in the December 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.