"Becoming" Mary Carmelita Manning, R.S.M.

Healthy Times, Summer 2002 issue

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Each year the Sojourner Foundation of Detroit sponsors "conversations" with historical women of note at an event during Women's History Month in March. For this year's conversation, the Foundation, which provides funds to support opportunities for women and girls, selected Mary Carmelita Manning, R.S.M., the visionary founder of Mercy College of Detroit. Since Manning died in 1962, Mary Kelly, R.S.M., chair, UDM Health Services Administration, was invited to portray Manning and convey her inspiring message on March 22. Kelly researched the life of Manning by speaking to retired Sisters of Mercy who knew her. Kelly's reflections are below.

On "Becoming" Mother Carmelita Manning

Mary Kelly, R.S.M.

When I received a call from the Sojourner Foundation several months ago asking if I would be willing to "be" Sister Mary Carmelita Manning for the evening of March 20, I was thrilled to have been asked. My childhood memories of Mother Carmelita relied mostly on stories my Dad, Tom Kelly, had told me.

I remembered that Dad had driven Mother Carmelita and other Sisters to classes at Marygrove in the late 1920s from "the Boulevard" where they stayed, and where he worked for 46 years. I knew that Mother Carmelita was occasionally responsible for extra money that translated into Christmas gifts and new clothes for my sister and me. I recalled that when Mother Carmelita died in 1962, I heard the announcement in my study hall at Mercy High School and asked to phone home to tell my folks. Then I asked to leave study hall and walked across campus to Mother Carmelita's wake in the Administration Building--a sophomore in a Mercy uniform jumper finding her way into the front parlor of the Provincialate wing to pay her respects to a woman whose great impact she had felt and valued.

What I did not know, entirely, were many facts of Mother Carmelita's amazing life:

  • that she supervised the building of 16 hospitals, more than anyone else in the U.S. at that time;
  • that in an incredible 13 month-period she moved to Detroit, found and purchased land; negotiated architectural drawings; contracted with builders; built, occupied and opened Mercy College, the Novitiate and Provincial House;