Sisters of Mercy leaving El Cerrito school

After 63 years at St. John the Baptist School they're returning to Ireland

Sisters Francis Brennan, Declan Murphy, Baptist Halpin, Gertrude Hayes, Joseph McCarthy and Agatha Walsh were photographed at the Sisters of Mercy convent in Carrick on Suir, Ireland, before they left in 1956 to open St. John the Baptist School in El Cerrito (image from The Catholic Voice)

Father Michael Ryan faced quite a dilemma: He had built a brand-new school at St. John the Baptist Parish in El Cerrito but he had no Sisters to run it.

In 1955, this was a big problem. No Sisters, no school.

No nearby order could take on another school. In that summer of 1956, Father Ryan was visiting Ireland. He paid a personal call on Carrick on Suir, in County Tipperary.

After that, six Sisters of Mercy were dispatched to El Cerrito. Leaving their convent in August, they traveled by ocean liner and cross-country train to open St. John the Baptist School, grades first through fourth, just after Labor Day 1956.

Just about 63 years after the Irish Sisters saved the day and opened a school that is thriving just a few steps from their convent door, the last three Sisters are preparing to go home.

Sisters Angela O’Donoghue, Anne Maher and Carmel Crimmins will be returning to Ireland in July, ending a 63-year relationship between El Cerrito’s St. John the Baptist Parish and the Irish Sisters of Mercy. (image: Michele Jurich/The Catholic Voice)

Of the three, Sister Angela O’Donoghue, RSM, was the first to arrive. She came in 1959. She was the last religious Sister to serve as principal. Her term as principal may have ended in 1990, but she was a volunteer math teacher until just a few years ago. She visits the homebound in the parish.

Sister Carmel Crimmins, RSM, arrived in 1961. She once served as provincial for the California Mercy Sisters. After that, she was asked by the bishop of San Bernardino to take on detention ministry. She is active in that ministry today from El Cerrito, where she crosses the Bay to minister at San Quentin Prison. She is also a staunch advocate for Get on the Bus, which brings children to visit their parents who are incarcerated in state and federal prisons in California. She is raising funds for an Oakland-to-Chowchilla Get on the Bus trip next month.

Sister Anne Maher, RSM, continues as an educator. In addition to teaching at St. John the Baptist, she has worked at St. Paul School in San Pablo, and the now-closed St. Martin de Porres School in Oakland. She has served as a Title I teacher, working with students in inner-city Richmond. These days, she is a volunteer art teacher at St. Cornelius School in Richmond.

The convent that once housed eight sisters has been reduced in size; the chapel that was once the Sisters’ has become the parish’s Eucharistic Adoration chapel. A room near the entry is used by the school.

Among the things the sisters will miss is seeing people they know as they grocery shop and go about life in the neighborhood. They have been happy to see some of their former students teaching, both at St. John the Baptist and at public schools in the area.

They will miss, too, the multicultural community they have served. As Ireland welcomes more migrants, that experience will assist them. Sister Anne may teach some English as a Second Language classes to new arrivals.

They won’t be leaving El Cerrito without a celebration. On June 15, a 5:30 p.m. Mass of Celebration at St. John the Baptist Church will be followed by a reception.

When they get to Ireland, the Sisters will go in three directions: Sister Anne will go to Dublin, where she will help seniors get connected with technology; Sister Carmel to Cork, where she will spend time with her sister and brother, as well as engage in prison ministry; and Sister Angela will return to Carrick on Suir, the point of departure for these Sisters, and those before them.

Full story at Catholic Voice Oakland.


  1. Elizabeth T. says

    The Sisters of Mercy will be non-exsistant, period. Probably very soon as they DO NOT get hardly any vocations!

    The young ladies of this day, full of joy, want the ‘real deal’ as far as becoming a Sister. They want community and to wear a habit.

    The Sisters of Mercy I had growing up on the San Francisco peninsula ….were not very joyful and VERY STRICT. May God have mercy on them as I believe not all wanted to be teachers or Sisters, but they obeyed their parents, it was their parents vocation, as it was with some Priests too.

    The NEW ORDERS that have sprung up have SO MANY young ladies wanting to join, that they have to build new ‘cells’ as they call their rooms to manage all the new vocations!!!

    I pray for all the…

  2. God bless these sisters for their decades of service far from home.

  3. Fr. Michael,

    Yes, they need your blessings.

    But their religious order will disappear by the end of the next decade unless they return to the roots of their order. They have succumbed to the world by cutting back on their prayers, eliminating their dedication to the Eucharist, and modernizing to the delight of Satan.

    They certainly need our prayers.

  4. Stereotyping is a sin. The sisters of mercy taught at the elementary school I attended as a child. The good sisters were excellent teachers and very kind to the students- most of whom came from poor Irish families.

    • Elizabeth T. says


      You were Blessed, we students at the Mercy Sister run school on the San Francisco peninsula were not so blessed……I received a spanking in the 1st grade for talking to ‘my neighbor’ and some poor guy in 4th grade
      can’t remember what he was doing, but Sister pulled down everything in front of the class and spanked him!!
      I tell you no lie. As I said in an earlier post, some were very unhappy being a Sister or teacher or both!!
      Then we had one Sister whom would yell at you if you coughed or sneezed in the class. And we’re talking first graders…..that is really hard for such little ones to surpress coughs and sneezes let me tell you!!
      I pray for the Sisters and NEVER would I hold the Catholic Church responsible for…

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