A Brief History of Our Lady of Mercy, compiled by Nancy Deutman and Fr. Ron
Cardinal's visit to Our Lady of Mercy on January, 2002
The beginnings of Our Lady of Mercy started over 45 years ago at the then American and Spanish Air Base at Torrejón de Ardoz (about 20 kilometers east of Madrid). There was an Irish or possibly Irish American priest who celebrated the first Masses in English for those at the base. A group split off from there to provide for the Americans living in the Royal Oaks housing area (now Encinar de los Reyes near the Moraleja) and located near the Plaza Castilla. Finally, upon the arrival to Madrid of Father Sullivant in 1969, a mission was set up at the school on Alfonso XIII, 165. The school's name was Nuestra Señora de la Merced (from which we took our name, simply translating it into English). While a "mission", the baptisms and weddings were recorded at the closest Catholic Parish, Sagrado Corazón on Pío XII.
The Parish grew with the arrival of British and American companies and their CEOs, joined by Embassy staff and Spanish citizens with English-speaking partners. There was a time when Mass was celebrated at two locations and the St. Patrick's Charity Ball was unquestionably the premier expat social event. There was a waiting list to get in!
Many Catholics attended Sunday Mass for the fear of mortal sin if they missed their obligation. After Vatican II, many Catholics began to question more and Mass attendance suffered. Also, the number of expats was reduced when some companies either relocated to other countries or turned over the reins over to Spanish executives. At around the same time, the school closed off the second story balcony which we had used for our "overflow" space. The Early 90s marked the beginning of a big decline in church attendance. The American Embassy, other Americans, and some very tolerant British faithful kept the parish, popularly known then as "The American Church" from closing down. Fr. Sullivant was always known for his strong leadership, unique humor, and limitless energy. But everyone grows older and Fr. Sullivant began to experience health problems.
Father Ron joined Father Sullivant as Associate Pastor in 1997 and we started growing again. The chapel grew from half full, to completely full, to overflowing! Children were everywhere and our first wave of Nigerian immigrants found their way to OLM. The nuns who ran the school even gave us a nearby classroom to set up a live broadcast of the Mass for those who arrived late and could not find a seat - and still we had people standing at the back and out the door. There was one small exit for over 220 people, so it was time to look for a bigger chapel. Fr. Sullivant retired and passed away shortly thereafter. The Cardinal of Madrid came in January 2002 and vocally expressed his joy at seeing so many children in church. He presented them all with Holy Cards.
In May 2003, Bishop Fidel Herraéz, came for a pastoral visit and he was deeply impressed by the vibrancy of our community and knew we needed more space and a place to call our own. He agreed to help us and, after much searching, we were offered the possibility to share the church and "salones" at Santa Maria Magdalena Parish, as independent, but equal, Parishes. The Parish Council investigated and made its recommendation to move. It was a heart-wrenching time for many of us - we would gain chapel space, lose CCD classroom space, lose a great cafeteria space, but we would finally have our own location (no longer renters, finally a "real Parish").
The Parish decided to make the move, but first we needed to clear out the other church's "salones" (meeting rooms) of years of accumulated old furniture, mildewed books, and other items and then we had to repair the damage done by humidity and neglect. We cleaned, applied waterproofing, plastered, painted, scrubbed floors and windows, washed curtains, replaced bathroom fixtures and had fun! We also cleared out a 3 car garage of years of accumulated trash and unusable furniture. A great number of volunteers worked during the weekdays and were supplemented on the weekends by others who cheerfully pitched in to do whatever needed doing. Several times we went to lunch with Father Ron and Father José Manuel (the sweet Spanish Pastor who welcomed us with open arms). We enjoyed our newfound "neighbors". It was an exciting time and we looked forward to the day when we could celebrate our first Mass in our new "home" (May 1, 2005). When we left NS de la Merced, it was with mixed emotions. We asked what we could do for them and they requested a portable sound system that they could use as an intercom and PA system. Knowing we needed a place for fellowship, we began to search for a way to enclose the outdoor patio. We decided to install a retractable awning system and we went about organizing fund-raising activities (our Raindown Concert was the first) to finance it. It was 15000 Euros expense and was delayed and delayed but finally ready in time for our first winter.
Cardinal Levada's visit
We currently represent over 35 countries, have over 500 families or individuals registered, and over 130 students in CCD. Among our activities we include Bible study, CCD from K4 to Confirmation (11 levels), Young Adults, CAFÉ groups, the Giving Tree project in support of the Fundación Nazaret among others, our Language Programme, book sales, bake sales, potluck lunches, CCD teachers formation and lunch, workshops for the various ministries (Readers, Eucharistic Ministers, Altar Servers) and retreats.
We continue to be a strong, vibrant Parish and we will always remember the Bishop's words about us when he came to celebrate Mass at NS de la Merced (we freely translate here): "You have very young and very old, many races, many nationalities, from poor to rich, but only two things in common -- your language and your FAITH. You are more than a community, you are like a family and it works!"