A Graduating Fellow’s Reflection on the Inaugural Graduation of the Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellowship 2019-2021
Bottom row l-r: Amy Keller, Julia Morisi, Theresia Tina rsm, Jemima Walsh
On February 20th, the Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellows (Group 1) celebrated their graduation via Zoom. It was a wonderful graduation ceremony filled with joy, hope and gratitude for all involved throughout what has been an extraordinary year and a half! At our virtual celebration, we were joined by members of the MIA Board of Directors, Congregational Leaders, staff, parents, spouses, and partners from many Mercy ministries around the world. Although we were miles apart, during the duration of the ceremony we felt closer than ever. The MELF team did an incredible job at creating an intimate and meaningful virtual ceremony for us to celebrate our achievements and dedication to mercy, justice and leadership.
We each felt mixed emotions as we were preparing for our graduation. There was an immense sense of pride for one another and all that we have accomplished together. When we first met in Cambodia in August 2019, I don’t think that any of us realised the extent to which we would connect with one another, support one another, and feel empowered by one another. We were a group of dreamers who shared a vision for justice and change. Little did we know that we would suddenly become the greatest of friends whose dreams became more achievable when pursued together.
The graduation ceremony began with a heartfelt welcome from Sue Clarke, the Presider of Ceremonies and a director of the MIA Board. Sue offered a land acknowledgement and words of gratitude for elders and all indigenous people in attendance. This was followed by some opening remarks made by Berneice Loch rsm, who reminded us that this graduation is a great accomplishment after such uncertainty and change in our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later, Suzanne Ryder rsm director of the MIA Board, led us through the invocation.
To deliver a keynote address to the fellows and attendees, we were honoured by the presence of Mrs Mary Robinson, the first woman elected President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the current Chair of the Elders. Mrs Robinson has been a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment in leadership and has built movements for justice, peace and equality worldwide. She began her address by commending Mercy International Association for creating such an important initiative that promotes women’s leadership and extends women’s sphere of influence. In emphasising the importance of women’s leadership in our world, she explained, “women tend to lead differently, to be more problem solving, to be more collaborative, to be less hierarchical, and to be more listening”. She said that among women leaders there is a high level of trust which is a rarity. We were appreciative of her words and could relate to her wisdom knowing that our circle of mercy within the fellowship has been built and maintained through trust.
Mrs Robinson recalled her own journey as a leader. She emphasised the power of listening as one of the most valuable qualities in an ever changing world. Mrs Robinson called for allies in the fight for climate justice as she laid bare it’s many layers of injustice. She went on to stress the importance of hope and collective behaviour to overcome adversity and “build forward with equality, with fairness, with human security, with justice, and with human rights”. She ended on a hopeful note, praising our work and calling us to be prisoners of hope. She said: It is “a really, really important point, to be hopeful… All of you are building on quite difficult situations that you have found in your communities, but you have the optimism of hope”.
Angela Reed rsm, Head of MGA, responded to Mrs Robinson’s keynote address by thanking her for being a guiding light for women, girls and those marginalised throughout the world. Sr Angela praised Mrs Mary Robinson for her transformative leadership from the grassroots to the global table and for recognising that society as a whole benefits when women reach their full potential. The keynote address called Sr Angela to remind us that as we graduate from the MELF program, “we walk in the light of many women who have gone before us”. We offered the following blessing for Mrs Mary Robinson, on behalf of the Fellows:
'Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light' by Jan Richardson
“Blessed are you who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow and grief.
Blessed are you
in whom the light lives,
in whom the brightness blazes
— your heart a chapel,
an altar where in the deepest night
can be seen the fire
that shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
Every broken thing
As the inaugural group of Mercy Emerging Leaders, we presented a statement to the CEO, Berneice Loch rsm, and the MIA Board of Directors, to amplify our vision as we graduate from the MELF program. To honour the multicultural dynamic of our group, our statement was first read at the graduation by Theresia Tina rsm in Tok Pisin. Carmen Rosa Ccallomamani then read our statement in Spanish. And lastly, Julia Morisi read our statement in English. It states:
“We are a group of intergenerational, intercultural, and interfaith women from around the world who find a common connection in our commitment to live justly and mercifully.
As leaders in our local communities, we each represent diverse backgrounds, and we strive to bring our distinct experiences into conversation with the shared work of Mercy.
We cherish the longstanding ethical leadership modelled by the Mercy family worldwide, and share a commitment to living out the spirit of Catherine McAuley.
As Mercy fellows, we seek out practical solutions to issues of environmental and social justice. In doing so, we encourage and enable our communities and planet to thrive. We will continue to work for the empowerment of others - especially women - to experience full, safe and meaningful lives.”
In the weeks leading up to the final immersion and graduation, the MELF team sent each of us a package full of items that would be necessary for our final immersion experience. In the package, there was a sealed envelope which held our MELF Certificate of Completion. We also received flowers and a beautiful vase as a graduation gift from the team. During the graduation ceremony, we were awarded these certificates by Ron Ashworth and Sheila Carney rsm, Chair and Vice Chair of the MIA Board.
The past eighteen months have been such an incredible journey for each of us. It would never have been possible without a very special group of people who believed in each and every one of us and invested in our ongoing development. Gathered virtually, we wished to thank everyone who has offered us support, encouragement, knowledge, friendship and hospitality during this remarkable experience, especially Angela Reed rsm, Colleen Swain, Marietta Latonio, Nicole Christensen and Cecilie Kern. During the graduation ceremony, we shared a slideshow of photos of our MELF experience and each fellow recalled and offered our deepest thanks to those whom we have been so blessed to encounter on our journeys.
“We thank you for walking with us during a year of upheaval and learning. In imparting your gentle wisdom and encouraging us to keep going, you have passed on a spirit of Mercy in a practical, durable sense, and we are grateful.”
We concluded our vote of thanks by holding up our candles to celebrate the light and new wisdom that the new Mercy Emerging Leaders in Group 2 will bring into this hopeful community.
To bring the graduation ceremony to a close, Angela Reed rsm, Colleen Swain and Marietta Latonio led us through a closing prayer. We prayed for a more just, equitable and loving world:
“We look forward to the age of peace when violence is banished, when both women and men can both love and be loved, and the work and wealth of the world is justly shared”.
The fellows and I have been overwhelmed by the kindness, support and generosity offered by the Mercy Family during our time as fellows in Group 1. We are forever grateful for this once in a lifetime experience.
To Angela Reed rsm, Colleen Swain, Marietta Latonio, Cecilie Kern and Nicole Christensen, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your vision, outstanding leadership, organisation and creativity.
Congratulations to all of the MELF graduates!
It has been a journey. And this is only the beginning.
Messages to: Siobhán Golden - MGA Intern and MELF Fellow