New building will expand service at Mercy Endeavors
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly,” read Chris Bruno, board president of Mercy Endeavors, from a Langston Hughes poem at the Feb. 27 ground-breaking of the new senior activities center being built by the Sisters of Mercy. “Our dream for this center is now a reality.”
Before a crowd of seniors and supporters, Mercy Sister Jane Briseno, executive director of Mercy Endeavors, said she felt privileged to build a 6,800-square-foot, faith-based facility to keep seniors healthy and active with daily recreation, prayer, social activities, educational opportunities, advocacy and meals.
“This day has been long coming,” Sister Jane said. “We started off with a few pennies that the seniors and I collected and begged everybody to save their pennies. It’s a miracle that God has gotten us here to this day. It’s been through the wonderful and generous donations of people. What Scripture says, ‘What you have been given, you give as gift.’”
She said the Mercy Sisters had been in the Irish Channel neighborhood for more than 100 years, first invited by the Redemptorists. The sisters continue to educate at St. Alphonsus and have run Mercy Endeavors on the first floor of their convent at St. Alphonsus since 1997, when Sister Monica and other Mercy sisters recognized a need for local seniors.
Mercy Endeavors has outgrown its existing space for senior activities and has a waiting list, so the nuns knew they needed a larger facility.
They wanted to remain in the neighborhood but either couldn’t find or afford adequate property, Sister Jane said. Then the Coleman family stepped in and donated a plot of land on Jackson Avenue, near Tchoupitoulas. With money saved from the sale of Mercy Hospital and $2 million from the state of Louisiana, the project became a reality in 2014.
Murray Architects designed the center, designed to accommodate 150 seniors at a time; and Pete Vicari is the general contractor. It has a great room, a computer lab, meditation room, library, fully functional kitchen where breakfast and lunch will be cooked, exercise area and craft room. In 2015, a new art and soul program was added to include more visual arts activities, Sister Jane said, and transportation for seniors will continue. The new center is three times larger than the current center and expected to open in March 2016.
“We want to move forward and have a safe environment where our seniors can enjoy the fullness of life as we all prepare to move forward in our next stage of life,” Sister Jane said.
Bruno lauded Sister Jane and the faith of the Mercy sisters to provide a place that will truly enrich the lives of seniors.
“It is certainly faith that inspired so many people to take notice that many seniors in our community were not living fulfilling lives,” he said. “Why were our seniors not getting out of their homes and becoming more active? Sister Jane believed they needed a place to gather, to socialize and become more active. They needed to be energized. It was that thought which caused the first center to open. The center has improved the lives of so many seniors.”
Theresa Augustine was invited to join the center by a girlfriend.
“What a blessing that has been,” she said. “I have been so happy being there. We go to the movies, say prayers, eat breakfast, go to theaters, museums, do exercise. Do you believe we know how to do the limbo? We are one, big happy family. If you know any elder person who is home bored, idle with nothing to do, please invite them to come to Mercy Endeavors. I guarantee they’ll be there and love it.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond blessed the property and those associated with the Mercy Endeavors Senior Center. He said since the Mercy Sisters came to New Orleans in 1869, they have been invaluable to the church and New Orleans.
“They have served people, they have educated others, they have provided social services, and we are indeed grateful as a local church and as a city for all they have been or done and continued to do,” he said. While they might not have envisioned a Mercy Endeavors Senior Center when they first arrived, they have been doing mercy endeavors.
“We ask you to continue to bless the sisters and especially those who are part of this project,” he said.
“May the spirit of laughter, hope, faith, prayerfulness, companionship and compassion be perpetual guests,” prayed Sister of Mercy Monica Ellerbusch, principal at St. Alphonsus School nearby the new center. “May the holy light of your presence shine brightly on our center and be a blessing to all those who walk through its doors. And may your blessing rest upon us all.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.