Mercy Sisters 'leaning on our faith' as Pennsylvania crash claims lives of two sisters

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Rochester, N.Y., celebrates a July 17, 2023, Mass at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Gates in memory of Mercy Sister Arlene Semesky, who died in a car accident in Pennsylvania July 16. Three other members of her order were injured in the crash. (OSV News photo/Jeff Witherow, Catholic Courier)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (OSV News) -- Two Sisters of Mercy from Rochester were killed in a two-vehicle crash that took place July 16 in Pennsylvania and also involved two other congregation members.

According to a Pennsylvania State Police report, Mercy Sister Joanne Deck was driving a 2017 Chevrolet Equinox SUV when it collided with a 2014 Dodge Ram truck. The crash occurred at 9:53 a.m. in East Township, Pennsylvania, near Erie. The report stated that Sister Deck's SUV was traveling south on Gay Road and stopped at the intersection of Lake Road. It then proceeded straight through the intersection, at which point it was struck on the driver's side by the pickup truck.

The sisters' vehicle rolled over and came to rest on its wheels in a grass area north of Lake Road, according to the report.

Mercy Sister Arlene Semesky, 79, a passenger in the SUV, died at the scene July 16. She was to have celebrated her 60th jubilee in the congregation in September.

Sister Deck succumbed to her injuries and died July 19 at UPMC Hamot Hospital in Erie at approximately 6:15 p.m.

The SUV's two other passengers, Mercy Sisters Katharine Ann Rappl and Marissa Butler, were transported by ambulance to UPMC Hamot Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Two juvenile male passengers in the truck also were brought by ambulance to UPMC Hamot Hospital for minor injuries.

Mercy Sister Joanne Deck
Mercy Sister Joanne Deck
Mercy Sister Arlene Semesky
Mercy Sister Arlene Semesky

Sisters Rappl and Butler will continue their recoveries at the Mercy Center in Erie, according to Sister Kathleen Wayne, a leader for the Sisters of Mercy in Rochester and Buffalo, New York, as well as in Erie and Pittsburgh.

“We are leaning on our faith,” Sister Wayne said July 20, telling the Catholic Courier, the newspaper for the Diocese of Rochester, how the Sisters of Mercy are coping with the sudden and tragic loss of two congregation members.

Sisters Semesky, Deck and Rappl lived together at the St. Rita Parish convent in Webster, New York, a suburb of Rochester. Sister Butler lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and had resided in Webster with the three other sisters during her novitiate. Sister Wayne noted that Sisters Semesky, Deck and Rappl had gone to visit Sister Butler the weekend of July 15-16 while she was on retreat in Erie; all four were on their way to Mass when the accident occurred.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Rochester, Rochester Bishop Salvatore R. Matano offered the regularly scheduled 12:15 p.m. Mass at the diocesan Pastoral Center July 17 for the accident's victims.

"The Diocese of Rochester unites in prayer with the Sisters of Mercy community," the statement said.

The diocese later announced Mass was offered again at the Pastoral Center July 20 “for the repose of the soul of Sister Joanne Deck, RSM, and for the Sisters of Mercy who mourn her loss.”

Sister Wayne said, "We are eternally grateful for the prayerful support of so many people, including Bishop (Salvatore) Matano, Father Tim Niven (pastor of St. Rita) and our Sisters of Mercy across the institute."

Sister Semesky was a native of Elmira. She graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1961 and entered the Sisters of Mercy Sept. 8, 1963. She held degrees in food service administration, food science and home economics education. She worked in the motherhouse kitchen soon after entering the congregation, then moved to Notre Dame High, where she taught and also worked in the school lunch program for nearly 30 years.

She later ministered in Elmira with Elcor Health Services and Meals on Wheels. After relocating to the Rochester area, she sewed many popular items for Kate's Gift Shop at the motherhouse.

Sister Deck entered the Sisters of Mercy 57 years ago, teaching in several Catholic schools in New York. She taught at St. Thomas the Apostle School and St. Salome School, both in Irondequoit, and was an administrator and teacher at Corning Catholic School North in Corning. Sister Deck was also a guidance counselor and teacher at Cardinal Mooney High School in the town of Greece.

In 1985, Sister Deck began a 24-year tenure as a missionary in Chile. After returning to the Rochester Diocese in 2009, she organized activities for many years in the health-care unit of the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse.

Funeral arrangements for Sisters Deck and Semesky are pending. A special Mass at St. Rita Church in honor of the two Mercy Sisters is set for July 20 at 6 p.m., following 30 minutes of Eucharistic adoration, and includes Evening Prayer from the Sisters of Mercy's Office of the Dead.


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