Called to Tell Our Story

Sister Katherine Doyle, RSM talks about her new historical account of the Sisters of Mercy in Sacramento

“I’ve always loved stories.” Sr. Katherine Doyle, RSM, begins. She is explaining her current project to research and write the history of the Sisters of Mercy in Sacramento. “If I hadn’t become a Sister, I was considering a career as a journalist,” she continued, “but I’ve loved all the ministries in which I’ve served.”

Sr. Katherine knew from the time she was 10 that she was called to religious life and joined the Sisters of Mercy at the age of 17. “I am a native Sacramentan, I’m a Mercy General baby, and I had the Sisters as my teachers. Mercy goes all the way into my roots. I was even named after two Sisters of Mercy!”

With a career that began in education, Sr. Katherine found a passion for shaping the minds, hearts and spirits of young people. “I just love teaching in any form,” she continues. “After nearly 20 years in secondary education, I was called to help develop faith formation programs in parishes where children couldn’t attend Catholic schools. We wanted to teach them prayer and worship, but also core values; how to share, how to be kind to one another, how to live a life of service.” Sr. Katherine’s faith formation work eventually expanded to dioceses across the nation. 

She was then called to a new ministry in community governance for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. “I was in leadership for about ten years and I was also the director of our retreat center,” she tells us, “And today I am a novitiate pastor, helping to form new Sisters.”

In addition to working with women entering the order, Sr. Katherine is writing the very first history of the Sisters of Mercy in Sacramento. “The more I write this book, the more excited I get,” she says, smiling. “It spans from 1857, when we arrived, to 2008, and it looks at our relationship with the city.” Sr. Katherine is spending much of her time doing historical research since nearly all the Sisters’ records were lost between 1890 and 1948. Often this means painstakingly combing through newspaper archives. 

“I think what’s most exciting is to find these gems of forgotten history and bring those forward in a way that helps people understand the tremendous courage and self-sacrifice of the women who have brought us to this moment,” says Sr. Katherine. “We walk in their image and today we are still as committed to this city, especially to those without resources.” The early stories of the Sisters are full of heroism and selfless determination to meet the needs of the people in Sacramento. “The amount of hardship the Sisters encountered really strikes me,” she explains, “Because of the climate and the marsh in the city, a number of the Sisters died of malaria when they first arrived, and others became gravely ill. Their living conditions were just not conductive to good health.”

Sr. Katherine becomes animated as she describes the tremendous obstacles that the Sisters faced in achieving their mission. “What most Catholics don’t know is that at that time, religious communities were not funded by the Church. The women were personally responsible for all their own expenses.” Often this meant taking out loans to build much-needed schools or hospitals, and the only way to reduce this debt was through the generosity of the community. “The Sisters of Mercy borrowed money to build Mater Misericordia (the present day site of Mercy General Hospital). There was a huge amount of debt to repay, so the Sisters lived as simply as possible to erase that debt. Until they did that, that couldn’t take on another ministry.” 

Fortunately, the City of Sacramento wanted to help the Sisters as much as the Sisters wanted to be of assistance to the community. “We talk about the Sisters as a Mercy community, and from the beginning, this community has had multiple circles of support. The Sisters’ co-workers, their donors, city leaders—they were all part of this community.” 

One interesting fact that emerged from Sister Katherine’s research is that the women of Sacramento actually held fundraisers to pay for the Sisters of Mercy to come from San Francisco. The most pressing need at first was for education. So a small group of Sisters left their health care ministry in San Francisco and established schools in Sacramento. This was only made possible through the generosity of these women who wanted these schools for their children.

These accounts link us with our past and help us understand our role as partners in the mission of the Sisters of Mercy as it continues today. Sr. Katherine believes that this book is about more than just preserving the story of the Sisters. “If you don’t know your history, then you don’t know your roots,” she explains. “Readers will find inspiration in these stories. And I hope they feel a sense of belonging, and a greater sense of identity knowing the history of their city.”

Like many of the Sisters, Sr. Katherine draws strength from the histories she reads. “I want to acknowledge in awe and wonder the bravery, the faith and the sacrifice of the women who have gone before us. Because they are part of my story and part of our story. There’s something in it that tells us we can do something difficult knowing that those who came before us did it under harder circumstances. And this needs to be passed on, not only to novice Sisters, but to everyone in the Mercy community circles.”

Mercy Foundation is honored to work alongside Sisters like Sr. Katherine to advance our common mission to serve those in need.

To purchase a copy of Braided Lives: The Sisters of Mercy in Sacramento, 1857-2008, visit or