ATLANTIC CITY — Anyone who attended Our Lady Star of the Sea elementary school remembers learning from members of the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic women’s religious congregation.
After more than a century, the sisters are leaving the resort for good. Of the remaining two, Sister M. Shamus Zehrer has left and Sister Christine Triggs is in the process of leaving, so a farewell liturgy and reception were held for them and the Sisters of Mercy as a whole Monday at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church on Atlantic Avenue.
Besides Our Lady Star of the Sea School, the Sisters of Mercy also taught or had ministries at other places in the resort, such as Saint Nicholas of Tolentine School, Holy Spirit elementary and high schools, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, the now defunct King David Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, and Catholic Social Services.
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The Sisters of Mercy first served in Atlantic City in 1908. More than 400 members spent time in the resort over 111 years, the Rev. Patrick Brady said.
“Don’t cry because the Sisters of Mercy are leaving here, smile because they were here,” Brady said.
Most of the 450 people who filled the church Monday seemed to be affiliated with Our Lady Star of the Sea, the island’s only remaining Catholic school, as references to the school were met with cheers and applause.
The convent where the sisters stayed will be closed. The Camden Diocese has not revealed what will happen to it.
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Sister Christine is leaving the resort to become the assistant life coordinator at Gabriel Hall at the Mount Saint Mary campus in Watchung, Somerset County, said Debbi Della Porta, director of communications for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Mid-Atlantic Community.
Sister Shamus, 83, became ill over the weekend and left ahead of time for the McAuley Hall Health Care Center, also in Watchung, Della Porta said.
Sister Shamus was a 38-year principal of Our Lady Star of the Sea, retiring in 2014. She came to the city in 1968 as a teacher at the old Holy Spirit Grammar School on Massachusetts Avenue and became its principal in 1976.
A sign for Sister Shamus Way hangs in the air at California and Atlantic avenues outside the church. The school’s primary annual fundraiser, the Sister Shamus Walk, was named after her and marked its 10th anniversary in June.
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A bagpipe trio opened the service, which Sister Christine was in the church to hear. She also heard the well wishes that came from the Rev. Jon Thomas, the pastor of the citywide Parish of Saint Monica, and Sister Elizabeth O’Hara, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy.
After the service, Sister Christine said she taught mostly sixth- to eighth-grade math and eighth-grade religion at Our Lady Star of the Sea School.
Sister Christine said she was optimistic about the future because of the children she met through teaching at Our Lady Star of the Sea.
“The children were an inspiration. People look at things that make the headlines, and they get discouraged,” Sister Christine said. “I have been teaching young children for 38 years, and I have so much hope because they are so good.”
Sanai Macon, 15, had known Naimah Bell since they went to daycare together in Atlantic City.
Sister Elizabeth graduated from Our Lady Star of the Sea School in 1949 and graduated from Holy Spirit High School in 1953. She was one of seven children in her family who attended the school. Her oldest brother attended in 1934, and her youngest brother graduated in 1961.
Sister Elizabeth made the hundreds of attendees gasp and sigh with the recognition of names of sisters who are no longer at the school.
She said the Sisters of Mercy are leaving, but it was up to all the people who attended the farewell liturgy and reception to support the school and keep its doors open.
“Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School needs support for the future. Let our fond memories and gratitude continue to support the ministry of Catholic education in Atlantic City,” Sister Elizabeth said.