The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy--Mercedarian Friars--was founded in 1218 by Saint Peter Nolasco for the redemption of captive Christians. The Order was established in Barcelona, Spain and its origins had the character of living as a community of friars, that is, composed of both priests and brothers.
The purpose of the Order's founding was to ransom those Christians who were held captive because of their faith in Christ. Often in prisons, these Christians suffered greatly until they publicly renounced their faith in Christ, thus committing apostasy. Saint Peter Nolasco, inspired by our Blessed Mother, with his followers, saw an urgent need to put into practice the words of Jesus: "I was in prison and you came to visit me." and "No greater love than this is to lay down one's life for one's friends."
There were other religious communities and organizations within the Church dedicated to this work. However, what made the Mercedarians unique among them was their Marian spirit and imitation of Christ the Redeemer. Saint Peter Nolasco required his friars to profess a Fourth Vow: namely, to give everything, including their lives, should it be necessary, for the redemption of the captive and oppressed. This meant that the Mercedarians were required even to physically exchange themselves with the suffering Christians, allowing their freedom. Through this special consecration, the Order dedicated all of its energies and possessions towards this same goal -- the liberation of captive Christians. Thus, the first friars put their possessions and their very lives at the disposal of their neighbor.
Mercedarian Presence in the U.S.A.
At the dawn of the 19th century, we see the the province of Italy is reborn through the efforts of Fr. Pedro Armengol de Valenzuela. It is reorganized and regrouped into what is today known as the Roman Province. It is at this time, even in the midst of liberal revolution and suppression of cultures, that the newly reformed province takes a bold initiative to dedicate a mission in the United States of America.
In the 1920's, the Mercedarian Friars embarked on a great leap of faith in crossing borders to help in charity and solidarity the emigrants of Italy, who were, in some areas, oppressed, neglected, and in danger of losing their faith.
These missionaries dedicated themselves to showing forth the mercy of God among the poor and captive, the stranger, and the orphan. This mission was not easy, and like today, not everyone was welcoming to their presence as immigrants. The friars would first establish themselves in Youngstown, OH, before Providence would bring them to Cleveland and entrust them with the Parish of St. Rocco's.
From there, the Mercedarians eventually would establish the Parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also in Cleveland, as well as presences in Le Roy, NY, Philadelphia, PA, St. Petersburg, FL, and soon, Jacksonville, FL.
Today, almost a century later, the Mercedarians continue that mission of redemption in honor of Our Lady of Mercy, and defending and fostering our Catholic faith, in the footsteps of St. Peter Nolasco.