The Ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in Pakistan
Sisters of Mercy from Australia were first invited to Pakistan in 1979 by the Bishop of Lahore and in 1983 by the Bishop of Rawalpindi. Subsequently, after a period of discernment which included consideration of a report from two sisters who had visited Pakistan in early 1984 and who had identified obvious needs in health care and education, in May 1984 the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia (ISMA) agreed to minister in Pakistan. The Melbourne Congregation was named as the congregation responsible for administering the Pakistan Project.
In January 1985 the first group of four sisters arrived in Gujrat (Punjab Province). Their ministry included primary and secondary education in the city and rural villages; administration of Rosary Hospital for women; conducting a Health Outreach Program and a Women’s Development Program at Mercy Hostel; and pastoral visitation in the slums and a women’s prison. Not long after their arrival they discovered that an Irish Mercy sister was already ministering in Multan as an educator. In 1986 four sisters came to Peshawar (North West Frontier Province) where they became involved in education, pastoral work, a women’s centre, an education project for Afghan women and children which included a play group, conducting literacy programs for women and prison visitation.
Responding to the need for provision of high quality teacher training programs in Pakistan, in August 1991 the first two sisters went to Karachi (Sindh Province) as founding staff members of Notre Dame Institute of Education (NDIE), a teacher training college. They also supervised two hostels for NDIE students and developed an in-service unit for the professional development of teachers. Sisters also became involved in seminary training, education outreach programs and drug education and prevention programs. By 1994/95 sisters were in Rawalpindi (Punjab Province) where their ministry included education, pastoral work, formation of priests, spirituality and retreat programs.
From 1986 the sisters in Gujrat and Peshawar began to meet regularlyto articulate their mission focus.As the number of sisters in Pakistan increased, thegroup began to meet annually to address issues arising from their life, ministry involvements and to discern the possibility of establishing a formation program. There was some movement of sisters within and across dioceses and between Mercy communities. After many years of discernment, a decision was made to accept Pakistani women into a formation program, so involvement in formation became part of their ministry with the establishment of a Formation House in Rawalpindi in 2000. Two women joined the program, with one sister making her final profession in Melbourne in 2011 as part of the Melbourne Mercy Congregation.
Between 1985 and 2009/10, when the involvement of the Mercy sisters in Pakistan began to wind down, approximately 40 sisters, including short-term volunteers who came for up to three months at a time, had ministered there. They had exercised leadership in a range of local contexts. In addition to the ministry involvements previously mentioned, sisters also served on Diocesan committees, Boards and with other Catholic agencies including Caritas. They also worked alongside their Muslim colleagues in a variety of ways. They valued their close relationships with other religious congregations in Pakistan and appreciated the ongoing prayerful and practical support received from their sisters in Australia. At the time of writing, in September 2018, one Mercy sister still ministers in Karachi as the principal of a secondary school.
Prepared by Annette Schneider rsm
September 9, 2018.