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Sister Mercedes Kirst

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 30/07/2020

SMSM SistersSr. Mercedes Kirst smsm

(formerly known as Sr. Mary Regis smsm)

May 10th, 1927 – July 30th, 2020


Mercedes Kirst was born in Buffalo, New York on May 10th, 1927, one of two daughters of Henry F. Kirst and Florence Bernhard Kirst.  Her father was a jeweler and her mother a stenographer, but during the Depression, her father lost his job.  He got a job at a laundry, but one day, slipped on the ice while carrying a heavy bag of laundry and fractured his spine.  He was incapacitated for several years.  When Mercedes was about 10 years old, her mother developed a brain tumor.  She had surgery that was only partially successful, and she died ten years later.  From her parents, Mercedes received the gift of faith, and also the experience of learning to care for the sick and injured that led her eventually to become the dedicated and loving nurse that she was.

Mercedes entered the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary on August 2nd, 1945 in Bedford, Massachusetts, and made her first vows on February 2nd, 1948.  At her reception as a novice, she was given the name Sister Mary Regis.  Soon after profession she was sent to train as a nurse at St. John’s Hospital in Lowell, MA.  She became a Registered Nurse (RN) in 1951.

In June 1952, Sr. Mercedes departed for her first mission assignment: to the TB hospital that our Sisters staffed in Killara, Australia.  She served there for 3 years and made her perpetual vows in Killara in 1954.  In 1955, she received the kind of mission destination she had been hoping for: to the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.  There she served as a nurse, midwife and tutor in Tearouki for five years, and then as a nurse in Chabai and Turiboiru.

Years later she wrote about this time: “One of our American sisters, a doctor, was in charge of this ‘hospital’ with dirt floors, no running water, no electricity except for a generator which we could afford to run for only three hours a night.  However, even without these ‘necessities’, ‘minor miracles’ took place and the mission thrived.  Within two years a training school for Infant Welfare Nurses and Midwives was begun.  These young women, taken from grade four (the highest standard of education at that time) became the first nurses on the island.

After five years I was assigned to another ‘hospital’ in the bush: this time on my own, except for the Lord who was palpably present.  In an emergency, I could call on my elderly companion at the convent, who fortunately was fluent in the local dialect, and was able to calm an anxious woman in prolonged labor, and an equally anxious midwife!”

In 1962, Sr. Mercedes was called back to the USA to make her “Second Novitiate” in Lowell, MA. She then received an unexpected appointment – as Novice Directress for the large numbers of young women who were asking to enter the SMSM in the early 1960’s.  The novices appreciated her down-to-earth and joyful spirit and her wise counsel and prayerfulness but had no idea until years later (when she told them), that she found this assignment so much more difficult than delivering babies in Bougainville.  She completed her term as Novice Directress in 1966.

During these years Sr Mercedes did some professional updating through courses at Boston College, Sacred Heart College, and Stonehill College.  Then, in 1969, she was asked to be the Coordinator of the Second Novitiate that was held in Rhinebeck, New York.

In 1971 Sr. Mercedes returned to Australia where she updated her midwifery skills before arriving once again in Bougainville. From 1972 to ‘74 she served in Monoitu, and when she was able to turn that clinic over to local nurses, she moved to Moratona, where she continued nursing until 1978.

From March to December 1978, Sr Mercedes came to the USA for a home visit and spiritual renewal.  On returning to Bougainville, she lived at Tunuru and was asked to be the coordinator for teaching Natural Family Planning in Bougainville – work that entailed a lot of travel on dirt roads and across unbridged rivers in a Suzuki 4-wheel drive in order to reach the different mission stations.

From December ’83 to April ‘86 Sr. Mercedes was assigned to community service at the central house in Wahroonga, Australia.  In 1986 she was missioned to Goodna in Queensland, Australia, where she worked with the Department of Catholic Immigration in a ministry to help with the settlement of immigrants and refugees from Latin America.

Before returning to the USA in 1992, Sr Mercedes had the joy of participating in a renewal and pilgrimage for our senior Sisters to Rome and to our places of origin in France, which she said was “an unforgettable experience”.

While living in Lexington and later in the Grove Street community in the 1990’s, Mercedes volunteered 2 days a week at Nazareth House in Roxbury, a transitional house for women and children with HIV AIDS, and also served part-time as a receptionist at Maristhill Nursing Home. In 2003 she was assigned to the Arlington community.  The following year she was transferred to 62 Newton St., suffering from severe diabetes and needing rest.  

From 2005 to 2010 Sr Mercedes resided with our Sisters at the Marillac assisted living facility in Wellesley Hills.  She began to have serious health setbacks and was transferred to St Patrick’s Manor in Framingham in 2012.  Later she moved to Marion Manor in Boston.  She seemed to be happy in that setting and enjoyed showing visitors around. 

Early in the morning of July 30th she experienced shortness of breath and was brought by ambulance to the emergency room at St Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston.  There she died at 7:45am.   Her death seemed “sudden” to us, perhaps because she was always so “full of life”.  The hardships she experienced throughout her life never seemed to overcome her.  If we know of anyone “... joyfully given to God, for the Kingdom, in the spirit of Mary” (Const#23) it was certainly Sr. Mercedes.  May she now enter into the joy of her Lord.


Gratefully in Mary,

Sister Helen Muller, smsm                                                      Sister Virginia Fornasa, smsm

Regional Leader                                                                     Communications Secretary