In 1954, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Leo G. Fink, P.A., V.F., and Sacred Heart Parish in Allentown provided four rooms in the St. Martha House at 415 Pine St. for the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy. The new school gave the opportunity to 22 boys and girls who were mentally retarded to receive specialized education and training. Sr. Mary Lawrence, C.R.S.M. (Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Mercy), taught and divided the students into two groups. The senior group attended classes in the morning, and the junior group attended in the afternoon.
The new students came from 15 different parishes. Each child’s family had to provide transportation to and from school. During the first year the students received theirs First Holy communion, and 16 received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Sr. Mary Mildred, C.R.S.M., became administrator/teacher of the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy. All instruction continued in groups according to ability.
In the spring of 1961, Msgr. Fink petitioned for a new modern building for the children. On April 17, 1961, Bishop Joseph McShea, Bishop of Allentown, asked for a tract of land on St. Paul’s Parish grounds for the new school. Groundbreaking took place October 1, 1961, and classes began in the new school March 8, 1962. During the 1961-62 school year, full-day sessions were created to provide more opportunity for students to progress. Besides Sr. Mildred, the staff was expanded to include one lay teacher.
The new building was constructed with funds from Catholic Charities Appeal at a cost of more than $100,000. Bishop Joseph McShea dedicated the new school on Sunday, April 1, 1962. At the same time, the name was shortened to Mercy Day School.
A new wing was built and dedicated in response to an urgent need on April 29, 1973. Funds from the 1971, 1972 and 1973 Catholic Charities funded the additional renovations to the original structure at a cost of $150,000. In 1973, Catholic Charities funded the school entirely, and there was no tuition. There were two full-time teachers, one principal/teacher and 25 volunteers.
Msgr. Dennis A. Rigney became Director of the Catholic Social Agency. Mercy Day School came under the auspices of this agency.
Mercy Day School celebrated its 25th anniversary. Enrollment was 45 students ages 5 to 21.
Sr. Janice Marie became principal. The same year the Pre-School Early Childhood Program from Allentown College relocated to Mercy Day School. Two years later, it was officially made part of Mercy Day School.
From 1981 to 1988, the staff increased to a full-time principal, seven full-time teachers, three teacher assistants, and specialized instructors for speech, physical and occupational therapy from Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit. Volunteers offered their services on a day-to-day basis.
Mercy Day School received accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and was the first program for children who are mentally handicapped in Pennsylvania to receive this recognition. Enrollment for 1987-88 was 82 full time students.
A 15-member Development Advisory Board was formed to help lead the school into the future so that the “Oak Tree” of Mercy Day School would continue to grow.
Mercy Day School changed its name to Mercy Special Learning Center in December 1988 to define more clearly the school’s mission of providing opportunities for children who are mentally handicapped.
A modular classroom was added to help provide for the individual attention and special equipment needed by our students.
Mercy added a Work Experience vocational component to the educational program that permits students to gain work skills at designated worksites throughout the community.
Van Horn Associates conducted a feasibility study to determine the potential and strategy for a $1,000,000 capital fundraising campaign for the purpose of constructing an 8,700 square-foot addition to, and renovations of, the existing school. After a positive feasibility study, permission was granted to begin a capital campaign. The first meeting of the Capital Campaign Committee was held April 27, 1993.
Permission was requested of, and received from, Bishop Welsh to proceed with the building project. George Yundt, Architect, prepared the final drawings, which went out to nine area builders for bids. Bids were returned and opened on February 16, 1994.
Groundbreaking took place on Wednesday, March 16, 1994. Canjalyn Constructors Inc. was chosen for the job. The property was staked out on Friday, May 13, and construction began Monday, May 16, 1994. Renovations in the existing building, which yielded two new classrooms and a therapy room, were completed July 29, 1994. Construction was completed on the new addition Friday, September 16, 1994, four months to the day after it was started.
The dedication and 40th Anniversary celebration took place on Saturday, November 5, 1994. At the time, Mercy had 90 students, eight teachers, seven teacher assistants.
February – Mercy staff members presented a colloquium on stress management to local educators as part of Mercy’s re-accreditation process for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
May – A farewell tribute was held at Mercy in honor of Sr. Janice Marie Johnson, who served for 16 years as principal. A new playground donated by the Catholic Social Agency, and named “Sister Janice’s Circle of Mercy,” was dedicated in her honor.
July – Mrs. Heidi Fritts was named principal of Mercy Special Learning Center. Enrollment is more than 80 students.
The Over 21 Program was established at the start of the 1997-98 school year. This program provides a day setting for former Mercy students who are unable to work independently.
Mercy integrated the early education program for students between the ages of 1-5. This school year also marked the beginning of our student Tone Chime Choir.
Teacher Linda Bonner celebrated her 25th anniversary as a teacher at Mercy.
Spring – Mercy Teacher Vickie McHale is named Wal-Mart’s Lehigh Valley Teacher of the Year. Mercy’s Parent Alliance Group published a cookbook titled “Gifts From Our Heart” that was a compilation of recipes from students, faculty and alumni. Student Maria Twigg designed the cover.
May – Mercy completed a DOAS (Description of an Accredited School) for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. This DOAS provided Mercy with the opportunity to establish a detailed web site about our program.
June – “The Essence of Mercy” award for an exemplary boy and girl is established. The first recipients were Mary Gordon and Patrick Murphy. In addition, Mercy was named a recipient of the Ronald McDonald House Charities in the amount of $11,300, specifically for equipment.
September – The beginning of a Jubilee Year Pilgrimage. The three schools in the Diocese for children with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities held combined activities during the first three months of the school year. The Pilgrimage concluded at Mercy as Bishop Cullen celebrated Mass for all the schools.
January – The implementation of an integrated Toddler/Childcare Program to complement our Mini Mustang Program. This venture filled a need created by the dissolution of the same program previously run at Good Shepherd.
February – Gary Iacocca was named the Development Advisory Board’s honorary member.
June – Bridget Muehlenkamp’s 25th anniversary as a teacher at Mercy.
June – The start of a summer camp opportunity for Mercy students between the ages of 6 and 11. Camp was held two days per week during the month of July.
Mercy first receives scholarship funds from the Eastern PA Scholarship Foundation.
January – Bridget Muehlenkamp was named principal of Mercy.
June – Mercy’s summer camp for 6- to 11-year-olds welcomed three Mercy students.
July – Five Mercy students and one graduate performed a jazz routine to the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” as the finale of the entertainment extravaganza for the National Down Syndrome Society Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
November – School-Age enrollment was at 75 (including 12 in the Preschool program). We have 8 clients enrolled in our Over 21 program and 8 toddlers in our extended care program. Our Early Intervention staff member visited two infants in their homes weekly.
May – We submitted our 6-year progress report to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The report was approved in October.
September – Total enrollment at Mercy has grown to 102. Our School-Age program had 78 enrolled (including 17 in the pre-school program), 15 toddlers enrolled in our extended care program and 9 clients enrolled in our Over 21 program.
October – Our Over 21 Program received state licensing, having fulfilled 100 percent of the necessary requirements.
November – Marked the 50th anniversary of Mercy Special Learning Center.
Spring marked a name change for Catholic Social Agency to Catholic Charities.
December marked the completion of a 2,200 square-foot addition to house the growing population in our Tender Loving Care (TLC) Over 21 Program for adults with disabilities. The addition was fully funded by a bequest from the Anthony Pinter Estate.
January – Mercy implemented a nutrition program titled “Eating Healthy Can Be Fun” as our project for re-accreditation with Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
February – We dedicated the TLC addition and received renewal of our state license.
March – Five-year maintenance plan was put into effect.
May – Mercy teacher Jayne Serino celebrated her 25th anniversary of teaching at Mercy.
July – Mercy officially moved from Catholic Charities to the Office of Education.
October – We welcomed the Middle States Team Evaluation for our re-accreditation process.
May – Mercy has been re-accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
January – The establishment of Mercy’s website: www.mercyspeciallearning.org
Fall – Mercy dedicated our “Safe Surface” playground funded by and in memory of John Sipics, William Schnierlein, Ray Kaminski and Diane Zeppenfelt as well as in honor of Rosemary McFadden.
Mercy students warmly welcomed the Fourth Bishop of Allentown, The Most Reverend John O. Barres, DD, STD, JCL and Mr. Lou Rusnock, the new Supervisor of Special Education Programs for the Diocese of Allentown.
Spring – Honorary board member Gary Iacocca donated time and talent to have a video regarding business support of Mercy created by Viamedia.
We dedicated our new Donor Wall recognizing the DAB, Parent Alliance, scholarship donors, grantors and both corporate and private donors.
Spring – Mercy teacher Jayne Serino celebrated her 30th anniversary of teaching at Mercy.
June – Our Advisory Board held a retreat to redefine our efforts to benefit Mercy students. The following key points emerged:
- Develop the financial stability and sustainability in order to support programming, maintenance and operations endeavors.
- Establish a long-range planning committee to determine strategic initiatives and long-term financial planning.
- Construct and develop a marketing and promotions plan to include a re-branding of the school.
- Recognize DAB sub-committees and develop job descriptions for each.
December – We closed the toddler portion of our Mini Mustang program.
February – Mercy completely revamped the school Web site to be more user friendly as well as updating our “appearance” on the internet. Mercy officially joined the Global Gateway system, offering donors the option of making gifts and registering for events through our website.
Mercy connected with DeSales University and offered an internship opportunity at Mercy.
April – Mercy teacher Nancy Peluso celebrated her 25th anniversary of teaching at Mercy.
Mercy received a Smart Table, Tap It, iPads and laptops from the Intermediate Unit for use in our educational program; this technology was not previously available at Mercy.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of our Development Advisory Board.
We welcomed Brooke Cortese as the new Supervisor of Special Education for the Diocese of Allentown and Tom Harper as our new Advancement Director.
May – Mercy Metal Works, a program that involves students making jewelry out of scrapbook paper, washers and other materials, was created by Donnalee Carroll and Betty Hader in Room 2.
September – The Board transitioned from the DAB to a Board of General Jurisdiction to help make decisions as they related to enrollment, marketing, finance, facilities and development. Employees from Olympus came to Mercy for a Day of Caring that involves reading to our students, replacing the garden and painting the wooden deck in the back of the school
November – The Rosemary McFadden J.O.Y. Fund is established by her family to honor Rosemary, a longtime Mercy volunteer. The fund provides for a special year-end field trip for all Mercy students.
December – The Christmas Show is streamed online for the first time thanks to our new Board.
March – Casino Night returned from a year’s hiatus to raise more than $21,000.
April – Our Facebook page reached 1,000 Likes.
May – Mercy participated in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community in Bethlehem with 100 walkers. And focus groups comprised of teachers, staff, volunteers, Board members and donors are created to discuss the rebranding of Mercy, beginning with the mission statement to ensure that it accurately reflects Mercy’s vision.
June – Work began on a major $750,000 renovation project to the original classroom wing. The complete project, when completed over the next couple years, will involve the wing, the bathrooms and outdoor landscaping. Also in June, Vickie McHale celebrated her 25th anniversary of teaching at Mercy. Students visit Knoebels as part of the first-ever J.O.Y. Fund trip. And our Annual Fund reached a record high with more than $80,000 raised through the program.
August – Our Golf event celebrates its 25th anniversary and raises more than $44,000 with both a morning and afternoon round. The start of the 2014-2015 begins a celebration of Mercy’s 60th anniversary.
September – We welcomed two new Work Experience locations in ATAS International and Parkettes, bringing the number of worksite partners to 15.
November – Our Gala celebrated its 25th anniversary was our largest in school history, netting more than $173,000 and hosting nearly 400 participants.
August – The Mercy Golf Classic had 163 golfers, 30 more than the previous year, while netting more than $46,600.
On Sept. 1, we unveiled the new name of our school, Mercy School For Special Learning, and new logo at a media event held at Mercy.