In response, Catholic Social Services invited the Sisters of Mercy to help found and staff a shelter for homeless women in downtown Philadelphia. The Sisters of Mercy had deep roots in the Philadelphia region and a natural affinity for working with the homeless population, originating with their founder Mother Catherine McAuley who embraced a “fourth vow” of service to the poor and sick. From its founding in September 1976, the charisma (guiding vision) of the Sisters of Mercy has shaped the spirit of Mercy Hospice:
… a passion for the poor, and commitment to act in solidarity with the economically poor of the world, especially women and children. (Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Direction Statement)
Sister Mary Klock, RSM was the first Director of Mercy Hospice, accompanied by a fellow Sister of Mercy and two other staff members. Together they provided a safe haven, meals, and referral assistance to the women and children in their care.
Originally located on three floors above a tavern at 12th and Sansom Streets, at its outset, Mercy Hospice was a short-term shelter for homeless women that could accommodate a maximum of 15 women and four children. Their length of stay was limited to two weeks, with the simple intention to move them into an apartment or public housing within that time frame. It soon became apparent that most women needed more time to find affordable alternative housing, and required more services such as counseling, parenting skills, job training and budgeting, to successfully move on to independent living. In turn, the program evolved into longer term stays of 3 to 6 months to allow women the opportunity to save money and gain the life skills necessary to move out of Mercy Hospice and live on their own.