The 20-year-old Sisters of Mercy ministry devoted to keeping Lower Garden District and Irish Channel seniors active, healthy and in contact with their peers has a modern new hub located a block from the Tchoupitoulas Street corridor.
Mercy Endeavors Senior Center, a single-story, tan-and-red-brick facility at 457 Jackson Ave., offers area seniors 6,400 square feet of light-filled space for weekday recreation, prayer, social activities, educational opportunities, advocacy programs and meals.
Dream becomes a reality
“I learned as a child that we don’t walk alone. God walks with us,” said Sister of Mercy Jane Briseño, executive director of Mercy Endeavors, thanking more than 100 Mercy Endeavors seniors, public officials, donors and other supporters at the center’s June 28 ribbon-cutting and blessing.
“At (age) 69, I believe wholeheartedly (that) through this process God has sent various people with different talents, depending on what we needed,” said Sister Jane, recalling the long road to secure funding for the project, which broke ground in February 2015.
Sister Jane said the Sisters of Mercy were elated that the gleaming new center ended up being located just blocks from her religious community’s first New Orleans convent at Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street. That site, now home to a gourmet hamburger restaurant, once held the residence of the six original Sisters of Mercy who came to the city in 1869, at the invitation of Redemptorist priests, to teach at St. Alphonsus School.
“This is the day the Lord has made, and we rejoice, and we’re glad that this day is here,” Sister Jane said, harkening back to the Psalm sung by the sisters upon their safe arrival in New Orleans.
Sister Jane also paid tribute to the vision of two late founding members of Mercy Endeavors – Lillie Barbre and Mildred Young. She said it was always Barbre’s dream that Mercy Endeavors become “a beacon light” to the wider population of New Orleanians.
“We want the community to see elders as the light in the community, and that’s what they are,” Sister Jane said. “For many years our seniors will enjoy the blessings of this center. They will play bingo, express their talents in the craft room, surf the internet in the computer lab, enjoy a good book in the library, go on outings and celebrate the Lord in prayer.”
Lots of dedicated space
The new facility, which has been holding activities since April, is three times larger than its predecessor, which held programming on the first floor of the sisters’ convent at 1017 St. Andrew St. Designed by Murray Architects and built by general contractor Pete Vicari, the new headquarters can accommodate as many as 150 seniors at a time.
Amenities include the “great room” – a grand area spilling off the kitchen that will serve as a gathering space for larger events and a dining hall for the daily lunch provided by the New Orleans Council on Aging; a craft room with long tables, chairs and display space for the seniors’ creations; a computer lab equipped with 10 desktop computers; a wellness room for independent and group exercise; and a library furnished in the mode of a comfortable living room.
Outgrew original location
The Sisters of Mercy realized they needed a larger facility to address the needs of Uptown’s growing population of seniors when the demand for services compelled them to keep a waiting list.
Funding for the center’s construction included $2 million from the state and $225,000 from the Sisters of Mercy. The land on which the center sits was donated by the family of Jamie Coleman, and an adjacent vacant lot was purchased by Mercy Endeavors to accommodate a future expansion.
Eunice Nero, 88, learned about Mercy Endeavors from a friend in 2008. She was immediately enamored of the fellowship and became a member.
“It captured my heart because of the friendliness, the atmosphere of the seniors, being among peers,” Nero said. “I could be myself and laugh and do things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do. For example, when would I have gone to the (Old) Mint if not for a Mercy Endeavors field trip?”
Nero’s gifts have flourished in her nine years at Mercy Endeavors. She leads a Bible study and writes and produces an annual play. Nero said the expanded space means that she can rehearse with her actors in privacy, instead of out in the open.
“This is a place where you can come and have a wonderful time,” Nero said. “We have been blessed with a wonderful staff and seniors that have grown together like family.”
Valuing elders’ gifts
Before blessing the new center with holy water, backed by the St. Alphonsus Elementary School Drum Corps and guests waving second-line handkerchiefs, Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the project would have remained a dream were it not for the hard work, prayer, “belief in miracles” and financial support of countless elder health advocates. He said Mercy Endeavors’ new headquarters is a tangible sign to the community that “we as people value the dignity of human life.”
“You (seniors) bring us wisdom, you bring us faith and you continue to make many contributions to our community and to our society. We believe in you and we thank you for all that you will do to make Mercy Endeavors Senior Center the alive place that it is,” the archbishop said, pointing to the impact the Sisters of Mercy have had on the city and local church for nearly 150 years in education, healthcare and other community services.
“I am very much indebted, as we all are, to the Sisters of Mercy for who they are, for what they do and for continuing to make the mercy of our God available to us,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I think we can be very sure that (Sister of Mercy foundress) Catherine McAuley is smiling down upon us today.”
Mercy Endeavors is open every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 568-0607 or visit www.mercyendeavors.com.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.