Sheila Grove

ERIE — A significant change is coming to Erie’s east side. The board and staff of the Mercy Center for Women (MCW), founded in 1994 to provide safe and supportive transitional housing, education and counseling for homeless women, are engaged in an ambitious renovation of the former Holy Rosary School. The $2.5 million project will transform classrooms into 13 two-bedroom apartments and will allow the center to offer a broader range of services.

The former Holy Rosary School, recently purchased by
Mercy Center
for Women.                      Photo/Sheila Grove

          “There is far more need than we can accommodate in our residential facility, which will continue in the former Holy Rosary convent,” said Jennie Hagerty, director of the Mercy Center for Women. “The purchase of the school enables us to provide independent housing for women and their children, services for our residential program graduates, programs now operated by the center offsite and new programs.”

          “This is all very exciting,” said Sister Michele Schroeck, RSM, a member of the Erie community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas who serves on the board of MCW.  “The mission and purpose of this ministry are the same as that of the original House of Mercy established by our founder, Catherine McAuley, in Dublin in 1827.”

          “The expansion,” continued Sister Michele, “helps to bridge the gap between the need for and the availability of transitional housing which has been adversely affected by recent governmental funding changes.”

          “In coordination with Father John Jacquel, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish,” Hagerty said, “we explored how the building could best serve not only the women and children of MCW, but also the community. We anticipate the scope of services planned for the former school to be a community resource that fills multiple voids in an area of the city that has a poverty rate of 16 percent.”

          The 13 apartments under construction each will include a living area, full bathroom, fully applianced kitchen with stackable laundry and will provide women and young children a safe and affordable independent housing option for two years.

          Other services planned for the building will facilitate healing and autonomy. These include classrooms, library and computer space with white boards used for GED programs and skill training, tutoring and homework help for resident children and moms.

          The school has housed a food pantry in recent years that will be operational in expanded form by early 2022. Partnership with community agencies will allow for cooking lessons, nutrition education and an on-site day care.

The gymnasium viewed from a former classroom.
Both will be 
available for resident use.     
 Photo/Sheila Grove

          A thrift store will generate revenue and provide women with retail experience and the opportunity to give volunteer service to the community.

          Hagerty is very excited that a much-needed move for the organization’s Dress for Success program will occur as early as spring 2021. Dress for Success provides gently used clothing and accessories for job interviews and professional work along with resume building and career opportunities.

          The school gym will provide recreational space for program residents and for the parish to use for after-funeral luncheons.

          Father Jacquel is an integral part of the planning and Holy Rosary parishioners are very supportive.

          “The partnership between this ministry and Holy Rosary Parish is very encouraging,” Sister Michele said, “It is a strong Catholic presence and is consistent with the Mercy mission.”  

          MCW residents recently prepared and hosted a meal for the parish in celebration of the school purchase. They also served Thanksgiving dinners distributed at Mother Teresa Academy in Erie, a school attended by children living in some of the region’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. The community benefits from residents’ talents and their ability to give back.

          “$1.4 million of the $2.5 million endeavor has already been raised as the project moves into its public fundraising phase,” said Hagerty. The result will be comprehensive and holistic services for women and children who have suffered homelessness, abuse and/or addiction on the road to health and autonomy.

          The Sisters of Mercy will celebrate their Foundation Day on December 12. The hospitals, schools and service organizations they have sponsored in their 150-year history in the Diocese of Erie — and now the expanded work of the Mercy Center for Women — continue to be inspired by the Mercy charism of compassionate presence, concern for the dignity of all persons and service to the poor. 

Classroom space that will become Dress for Success complete
with dressing rooms and a boutique. The classroom spaces will
be renovated into apartments and community services spaces.
Photo/Sheila Grove