In the mid-1950s, day care facilities were few and far between in the textile town of Belmont, North Carolina. Working parents generally had to rely on their extended family to care for infants and toddlers until they were old enough to enter school, which was problematic for single parents or those without family members able to assist with child-rearing activities.
The Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina, who had arrived in Belmont and opened a school in 1892 within thirty days of their arrival, have always been on the cutting edge when it comes to answering the pressing needs of their time. Whether it was founding hospitals in the late 1800s, like Mercy Hospital in Charlotte, NC, or St. Joseph's Sanitarium, Asheville, NC, or more recently, founding a ministry to assist those in the final stages of AIDS, the Sisters have always dedicated themselves to providing for the needs of the population around them.
This is why, in 1955, under the direction of Sister Marie Patrice Manley, the Sisters of Mercy began operating a day care facility primarily to help the textile workers in the area. This day care eventually became a residential facility created in direct response to the needs of God's most innocent and medically fragile children, which later became known as Holy Angels. The foundation of Holy Angels can directly be traced to the balance of contemplation and action espoused by the Mercy tradition. Along with the typical three vows of poverty, chastity and humility, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley, asked her sisters to espouse a fourth vow, one of service.
The population grew composed primarily of individuals with mental retardation who could no longer be cared for at home due to their multiple physical and medical demands. Parents, many of whom could no longer provide the necessary care their children needed, were grateful for an environment that provided a place of living, loving and learning for their children.
During its formative years, co-founder, Mother Mary Benignus Hoban, oversaw the tremendous growth of Holy Angels, serving as president of the residential facility until 1997. She remained president emeritus of the facility until her death at the age of 94 in December 2000. Not only did Mother B provide for the growth of the residential facility, she also supplied an essential spark which was necessary for fundraising.
Along the way, the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina, committed to the sponsorship of Holy Angels. That sponsorship formalized the relationship of the particular ministry with the Sisters of Mercy which commits to its support as well as its continuity. The relationship, however, does not place the financial burden of any sponsored ministry solely on the Sisters. Instead, the ministry is responsible for the majority of its own budget while the Sisters of Mercy expect the particular ministry to remain accountable for its actions. Not only is sponsorship a financial commitment, it is a spiritual and emotional commitment as well.
For over 53 years, Holy Angels has responded to the needs of persons with mental retardation who have multiple disabilities, many of whom are also medically fragile. As we look forward to the future, it is with confidence we pray to continue the ministry of caring for "God's Innocents," and providing them with unconditional love and unlimited possibilities.