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Historic order of Texas nuns receives African-American nurse into formation

An award-winning nurse from Abilene, Texas has begun her formation with the state's oldest order of religious sisters, known for ministry to African Americans.

Shana Merrick (right) at her reception ceremony on August 15 in San Antonio. (Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate/Facebook)

Shana Merrick, an African-American healthcare professional from Abilene, Texas, was received into formation on August 15 with the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate, a historic congregation founded to serve African Americans in San Antonio.

Merrick’s entry was celebrated with prayer and Mass at the sisters’ motherhouse on Yucca Street, with her mother and a close friend in attendance.

“Please keep Shana in your prayers as she begins this blessed journey,” the order said on social media.

Last evening, on the Feast of the Assumption, during Evening Prayer, Shana Merrick was officially received into the...

Posted by Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate on Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Merrick, a convert from the Churches of Christ, is one of several women at various stages of discernment with the 129-year-old congregation. She is now entering the order’s Affiliate phase—“a time of mutual discernment, lasting from six months to three years,” according to the order. This is followed by the pre-novitiate, which involves living with the community in a formation house.

Prior to her involvement in religious life, Merrick worked in healthcare for decades, serving as a registered nurse in various hospitals across the country. She received an Excellence in Dallas-Fort Worth Nursing Award in 2014, and has also served on various international mission trips—including in Zambia, where the Sisters have worked since 1988.

“If we have our ears open, our heart can lead us,” she said upon reception of her award from D Magazine.

Her order, the oldest for women in the state of Texas, was founded in 1893 by Irish-American businesswoman Margaret Mary Healy Murphy, a former slaveowner and widow later known for her racial justice activism. She answered a call for African-American ministry from the US bishops’ Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, which prompted her to sell part of her ranch and start a Catholic school and church for African Americans.

Several years later, she founded the order, originally known as the Sisters of the Holy Ghost, to staff her new St Peter Claver Mission after no other women’s congregations offered assistance.

That complex would contain the first free private school for Black children in San Antonio, as well as the city’s first Black Catholic parish. The church was later staffed by the Josephites for decades before closing during integration in the 1960s. The school is run today as the Healy-Murphy Center, which serves the city’s at-risk teens.

Since their founding, the sisters grew to minister in various regions of the Southern US and Mexico, and have also established an outpost in Zambia where a number of women have also joined the order.

Merrick’s own entrance comes just weeks after the order formally submitted documents for Murphy’s cause for canonization to Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS of San Antonio. He will reportedly present the petition to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their annual fall meeting in November.

Should her cause be accepted, Murphy will become one of four venerated Catholics known for founding orders to minister to African Americans, including Servant of God Mary Lange, Venerable Henriette DeLille, and St Katharine Drexel.

Merrick herself is now entering the same legacy of service, for which the sisters are expressing gratitude.

“Thank you Shana for dedicating your life to God and God's people who are poor and living on the margins of society,” they said.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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