When 49-year-old John Palecki sings the old tune, "Proud Mary", with his Brooklyn-based band, Melodic Soul, he may not quite sound like Ike and Tina Turner--or even John Fogarty from Creedence Clearwater Revival--two other 1960's era bands that turned the tune into a hit.

Palecki is developmentally disabled, and moved into a group home run by the Sisters of Mercy twelve years ago, after his parents died. Now, the band is a big part of his life: "To hear the beat of the music," Palecki told PIX 11, "I like the way the music sounds."

The Sisters of Mercy in Brooklyn-with their motherhouse based on Willoughby Avenue in Fort Greene-- are celebrating 150 years caring for the city's most needy, a mission that started in 1862, with the creation of Mercy Home--which started as an orphanage for children who lost their parents to illness, poverty, or the Civil War. The first children to take refuge with the Sisters were five boys.

"The five boys, they came from the local community, and apparently there was a fire," said Sister Caroline Tweedy, Chief Development Officer for the Sisters of Mercy--and unofficial historian. "They stumbled onto the doorstep, the sisters opened it, and little did they know those five boys would turn into Mercy Home for Children."

At one point, the Sisters were caring for up to six hundred orphans in the Home. With no state funding in those early years, the nuns started an industrial school for young women, to teach them skills like sewing.

The Sisters also opened up a "Select School for Girls"--where daughters of wealthier people in the community could get "a proper English education", Sister Caroline said. She pointed out to PIX 11 that the convent's large, signature wall surrounding the property on Willoughby and Classon Avenues was not erected to keep people out.

"The wall was actually placed up, because....the sisters had chickens and cows," Sister Caroline said. "That was part of how they provided for the children. Eggs, butter, what not. The wall was created to keep the animals in!"

For more than a hundred years, through two World Wars in the 20th Century, the Sisters primary mission was caring for orphans. Then, in the 1960's, New York State asked the Sisters of Mercy to begin caring for young people with special needs: cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, and autism.

After the outcry that followed the deplorable conditions existing at Willowbrook State Hospital on Staten Island--where hundreds of developmentally disabled individuals were warehoused in horrific situations--the state asked the Sisters to create "group homes" so people with special needs could live with dignity.

The Sisters of Mercy received funding for their building and staffing of group homes, but they never got government money for the arts and music programs they instituted to improve the quality of life for their residents.

"We've always been firm believers in the arts and music and how that unlocks for people their creativity....a voice for the voiceless," Sister Caroline said. "We've had some of the young guys who've had their art hung in art galleries, and they may not even speak!"

PIX 11 paid a visit to Mercy Home recently and witnessed the joy the music brought to the very special people we met with developmental disabilities. You can watch our stories, and if you would like to help the Sisters of Mercy with their music and arts program, you can contact them at:

Mercy Home 273 Willoughby Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11205

www.mercyhomeny.org