Mercyhurst Seminary/Preparatory School traces its heritage to the foundress of the Sister of Mercy, Catherine McAuley.  Catherine was born in 1778 into a financially secure family.  Her father James, a devout Catholic, taught the fundamentals of faith by his good example of  reaching out to the poor.  Catherine's comfortable life changed drastically after the death of her parents.  She was sent to live with a Protestant family where she experienced poverty firsthand.  She was able to retain her strong Catholic beliefs through her own strong will and the role modeling of her father. 

As chance would have it, Catherine accepted a position to serve as nurse companion to Mrs. Catherine Callaghan.  The Callaghan's were Quakers and encouraged service to the poor.  Catherine was free to practice her faith, thus fertilizing the seeds planted by her father.  The Callaghan's adopted Catherine as their daughter and eventually converted to Catholicism.  Upon their death, she inherited the equivalent of $1,000,000.

Catherine continued her service to the needy while studying educational methods.  She opened the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland in 1831 with the goals of spiritual advancement, and service to the poor, sick and uneducated.  Two hundred girls were enrolled in the school its first year with 12 women living and working in the building.  The women began to call each other "sister" and were encouraged to begin a religious order.  Catherine began her novitiate at the age of 52.  In 1831, three novices professed their vows, thus giving birth to the Sisters of Mercy.

Within the 10 years of beginning her order and her death, Catherine McAuley established a total of nine convents in Ireland and England.  She died in 1841 and was laid to rest in the ground with the poor.

Sisters of Mercy came to the United States in 1842 at the request of Bishop Michael O'Connor of Pittsburgh.  While the sisters were en route from Ireland to the United Sates, they met Tobias Mullen, a seminarian.  This chance meeting affected the education of young women years later.  Tobias Mullen was later named Bishop and invited the Sisters of Mercy to the Erie Diocese in 1870 since he saw a need for Catholic education.  In 1871, they opened Saint Joseph Academy, a private school for girls in Titusville, Pennsylvania.  By the 1920's, the order and the school were growing rapidly, so the sisters set their sights on opening a school in Erie.  

Bishop John Mark Gannon suggested to Mother M. Borgia Egan, the Superior of the Sisters of Mercy in Titusville, that she  raise $150,000 and come to Erie to found a school in 1921.  Mother Borgia purchased 75 acres of farmland in remote southeast Erie.  Mercyhurst Seminary, an educational institution for college, high school, and grade school women opened in 1926.  Hurst is old English for wooded hilltop and seminary in Latin means a place where seeds are planted to grow.  The Seminary was located on the first floor of Egan Hall giving some 50 students total access to the facility.  One lower grade was dropped each year until all students were graduated from eighth grade, leaving the seminary a high school and college institution.

When the Seminary was only three years old, the Great Depression hit the country.   The school needed a fundraising project.  According to Margaret McMahon, a 1933 Mercyhurst Seminary graduate, "The nuns produced and directed three musical comedies with college girls taking the main speaking and singing parts and the rest of the girls dancing and singing.  The plays were three nights each year at a different theatre.  I believe the Erie people were tired of all the sadness and enjoyed the live theatre."

Although Mercyhurst Seminary and Mercyhurst College originally shared the same facilities, plans for a separate building were set in motion in 1952. The Sisters, acting on a Middle States Association recommendation, broke ground on East Grandview Boulevard. The new building, now called Mercyhurst Preparatory School, opened its doors in 1963 to 170 women.

In 1974 Mercyhurst became coed, providing a private school alternative that had not been previously available to young people in Erie. In 1993 a building expansion program was begun, resulting in the addition of a new wing, including athletic facilities, offices, and a new auditorium. As the building expanded, so did Mercyhurst's eye toward innovation with several new programs.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded MPS the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award in 1993 and again in 1998.


The Life of Catherine McAuley (Parts 1 & 2)


MPS Timeline
  • MPS receives reaccreditation from the Middle States Association Commission on Secondary Schools in the Accreditation for Growth protocol.
  • Mercyhurst Prep developed an exclusive affiliation with the newly formed Pennsylvania International Academy (dormitory).  The school welcomed 37 international students from 12 different countries including China, Mexico, Korea, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, ndia, Poland, Taiwan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Pakistan
  • MPS became the first school in the region to be granted the rights to produce the most famous and longest running musical of all time:  Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.
  • The Alumni Association invited alumni to become part of the new Board of Governors under the leadership of Alumni President, Pat Genung’67Christina Swonder ’10 was named Outstanding Philanthropic Youth. 
  • Vanessa Bering ‘11, Marie Georger ‘12, Maria Tarbell ’10, Rylee Klomp ‘13 become PIAA Class AA State Swimming Champs in the 200 yd. Medley Relay and Marie Georger ’12 was the PIAA Defending Champ Gold Medalist in the 100 yd. backstroke.
  • Marie Case ’10 was named a Junior Olympic National Gymnastics Champion,
  • Andy Pregler ’11 named State Speech & Debate Champion in Commentary
  • Marie Georger ’12 named PIAA Class AA, 100-yard backstroke State Champion.
  • MPS expanded its diverse, international student population to include students from Denmark, Mexico, Australia, Nigeria and Korea. 
  • The school became wireless. 
  • Nicky Bell ’08 won the State Speech & Debate Championship in Extemporaneous Commentary
  • Robbie Steinbrink ’08 was named Outstanding Philanthropic Youth
  • MPS reaches three year, $3,000,000 Capital Campaign goal. 
  • New Science wing is dedicated. 
  • High IB scores are achieved. 
  • Speech and Debate claims National 2nd place.
  • MPS celebrates its 80th Anniversary.
  • Aggressive Institutional Advancement Program begins.
  • Mercyhurst Prep forms an educational partnership with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). 
  • Ms. Margaret Aste, principal, is named a Dynamic Dozen Woman.
  • Girls Basketball claims AAA state championship, making Erie history with back to back titles.
  • “Shoah Project” (a book of Sacred Stories and a video dealing with survivors of the Holocaust) debuts.
  • Girls Basketball Team captures the PIAA AAAA State Title.
  • Crew celebrates its 25th anniversary. 
  • $3,000,000 Capital Campaign is announced.
  • McAuley Scholars' classes for qualifying 8th grade students begin.
  • " Feed the Hungry” was named the Outstanding Philanthropic Group.
  • MPS receives Middle States reaccreditation. 
  • Girl’s tennis team are Metro League champions for 3rd year in a row. 
  • Taylor Baker `03, is named Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA.
  • Sr. Mary Ann Bader, RSM is named president. 
  • Bill Bengel is named to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. 
  • MPS becomes the 3rd school in the country to acquire rights to perform Les Miserables.

  • Mercyhurst Prep celebrates its 75th Anniversary. 
  • Students and chaperones travel to Baltimore for the 1st Mission Trip.

  • Our Lady of Mercy Chapel is redesigned and redecorated. 
  • Football team claims Metro AA/AAA championship. 
  • Tennis team captures state doubles championship.

  • Angie Potthoff `92 is named Erie‘s top athlete,
  • Bill Bengel is named highest rated high school coach of female teams of the century in the Times News Best of the Century series. 
  • Mary Ann Roberts Fessler `50, Teresa Szumigala `91 and Kelly Erven Masler `87 are named sixth, seventh and eighth in the top 12 female athletes; Barb Filutze, MPS cross-country coach, named to ninth place
  • Kelso Brophy `88, Veronica Sansom `88, Lisa Maxson Beery `86, Sue Heidt Koonmen `86, Eric Hicks `94, Kyle Horton `92, and Ron Palombi Jr. `80 named best of the century athletes from MPS. 
  • Karolina Dmochowska `99, IB Diploma holder, attends Harvard University.

  • Mercyhurst Prep is reaccredited by Middle States Association. 
  • Margaret Aste is named new principal.

  • MPS earns US Department of Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award for the second time. 
  • David Fries `97, IB Diploma holder, attends Harvard University.

  • Georgia Johnson becomes president and Edward Zenewicz becomes principal. 
  • School begins with a record enrollment of 846 students. 
  • School celebrates 70 years of education in the tradition of Mercy

  • “Nunsense" earns state and national honors. 
  • School begins participation in the Academic Sports League. 
  • Girl’s tennis team become D-10 champs.

  • Enrollment reaches 800. 
  • IBM computer lab opened. 
  • Girls' basketball team claims Metro and District 10 AAAA championships.

  • MPS is awarded the prestigious Blue Ribbon School award from U.S. Dept. of Education.
  • The new building and renovation project is completed at a cost of 3.7 million dollars. 
  • Enrollment reaches 780.

  • The 8 block, A/B day schedule is adopted. 
  • Reaccreditations is awarded with a glowing report from Middle States Association.

  • Girls basketball team wins the AAA state basketball championship. 
  • Boy’s basketball wins the AA state basketball championship. 
  • Girl’s soccer team captures D-10 title.
  • The twenty-fifth year as Mercyhurst Preparatory School in the new building on the hill is celebrated. 
  • Dress uniform, including ties for both boys and girls is adopted.

  • Administrative structure changes to include president and principal.  Sr. JoAnne Courneen and Mrs. Anita Squeglia become heads of new administration.

  • Girls' basketball team captures Pennsylvania AAA championship crown, a first for any Erie's girls' team. 
  • School celebrates 60th anniversary.

  • Enrollment reaches an all-time record high of 710 students.

  • MPS celebrates its tenth year of coeducation. 
  • Campus Ministry program begins. 
  • MPS joins the Metro League providing interscholastic competition for boys and girls.

  • MPS is reaccredited by the Middle Atlantic States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

  • Crew and Children’s Theatre Ensemble are established.
  • Sr. Maura Smith accepts responsibilities as principal of MPS.

  • Mercyhurst Prep becomes Erie’s only Catholic coeducational high school.

  • Sisters of Mercy celebrate their one hundred years in education in northwestern Pennsylvania by initiating an innovative modular system at Mercyhurst Prep. 
  • School colors are changed to green and white.

  • On May 3, dedication ceremonies for the new high school are held by Auxiliary Bishop Edward P. McManaman of the Erie diocese.

  • In the fall, Mercyhurst Preparatory School for girls on East Grandview Boulevard opens it doors to a record enrollment of 170 students.

  • Sisters of Mercy decide to construct a college preparatory school on East Grandview Boulevard.

  • Middle States recommends a separate building for the high school since facilities at Mercyhurst College are inadequate for the growing Seminary.

  • Enrollment becomes stable at 100 girls. 
  • Field hockey is a popular sport. 
  • School colors and uniforms are blue and white.

  • Mercyhurst Seminary receives initial accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

  • The Hurst Howl, the first student newspaper, is initiated.   Because the name is considered to radical by the faculty, it is soon changed to Hurst Hum.

  • This college preparatory school for girls receives accreditation by the Department of Public Instruction of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

  • Under the name of Mercyhurst Seminary, the girls academy moves to Erie, occupying the first floor of Mercyhurst College building, located on East 38th Street in Glenwood Hills.  Seminary students number in the 50’s.

  • St. Joseph private girls academy, conducted by the Sisters of Mercy in Titusville, Pennsylvania, is one of the first Catholic private academies approved by the Department of Public Instruction in Harrisburg.

  • Bishop John Mark Gannon suggests to Mother M. Borgia Egan, the Superior of the Sisters of Mercy in Titusville, that she "raise $150,000 and come to Erie to found a school."
After 1841

  • Foundations are soon established in Newfoundland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Perth, and Auckland, where the sisters work with both the immigrant and native people, educating and helping the needy.

  • In the ten years between founding the order and her death, Catherine establishes nine Convents of Mercy.


  • The Archbishop of Dublin along with friends of Catherine encourages the women of the House of Mercy to establish a religious congregation.  Three novices profess their vows on December 12, 1831, thus giving birth to the Sisters of Mercy.  Their principal aims are to "educate poor girls, to lodge and maintain poor young women who are in danger.and to visit the sick poor."  Catherine is 52 years old at the time.

  • Catherine McAuley is born in Dublin, Ireland in 1778.  Her compassion for the poor and strong conviction in the Catholic faith guides her to use her inheritance money to help poor women and children.  She leases property on Baggot Street in Dublin and opens the House of Mercy on September 24, 1827, on the feast of Our Lady of Mercy.