February 05, 2014

Behold I am doing a new thing - do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)

The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh had the gift of being able to invest the natural world with spiritual significance in a way that wonderfully reveals God’s hand at work in the ordinary as is captured in the following lines from his poem 'The Great Hunger':

'For God is not all
In one place, complete and labelled like a case in a railway store
...... God is in the bits and pieces of Everyday'

Angela Bolster rsm at work
on the Cause of Catherine's Canonisation

The ‘bits and pieces’ that converged to awaken the concept of Mercy International Association is probably what Catherine herself would call Divine Providence. It is truly an amazing convergence of co-incidences, or perhaps God incidences that now as Kierkegaard says helps us to ‘understand life backwards’.

Firstly because of the encouragement from Vatican II to religious to renew themselves in the charism of their congregation, a fresh enthusiasm for the story of Mercy and Catherine McAuley had been awakened. This newly awakened enthusiasm was strong enough to facilitate the TROCAIRE event - the first International Gathering of Sisters in Baggot St. in August 1981 to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy, December, 1831. Furthermore, a renewed interest in the Canonisation process of Catherine McAuley had begun and by 1985,  Angela Bolster rsm had prepared and presented a documentary study on Catherine in Rome which led to Catherine being declared ‘Venerable’ in April 1990.

A further exhortation of Vatican 11 to religious on renewal and adaptation had a direct bearing on the formation of Mercy International Association. It said Independent institutes should, when opportune, form federations if they can be considered as belonging to the same religious family. Others who have practically identical constitutions and rules and a common spirit should unite. Finally, those who share the same or a very similar active apostolate should become associated, one to the other.(Perfectae Caritatis 22)

Faithful to this exhortation, movements towards unification were undertaken in the Federations and Institutes of Australia, America, Ireland, England and New Zealand and this greatly facilitated the consideration of collaboration on a wider scale.

But not all change happens because of great Church movements like Vatican 11. The ordinary ‘bits and pieces’ can be just as powerful in revealing and actualizing God’s purpose.

In the decade between 1970 -1980, another initiative had been taking place. The Federation of Sisters of Americas had been having informal conversations with the Dublin Congregation regarding ways of assisting mutually in the conservation and preservation of Baggot Street and the archival materials related to the founding years. Sisters of Mercy of the Union (USA) had also offered assistance in the preservation of the archives housed in Baggot Street and Carysfort.

Sebastian Cashen rsm at the side entrance,
Convent Lane after the decision
was taken to create
Mercy International Centre
at Baggot Street

One hundred and fifty years had taken its toll on a house built by Catherine before 1830 and added to over the years to meet new needs and to incorporate heating, water, sewage and electrical systems. Dry rot and wet rot had set in and severely affected the fabric of the house. An indication of the effects of this can be gauged from the fact that the noon Mass catering for those in the surrounding business offices had to be discontinued with safety concerns for the structural safety of the chapel floor. Ministry needs in the area were changing. The Mercy school in Townsend Street, staffed by the Sisters, residing in Baggot Street had amalgamated into the parish school. In response to new needs, Sisters were moving into smaller houses, often in underserved areas. By 1987 various options for use of parts of Baggot St. Convent were under consideration by the Sisters of Mercy, Dublin. Because of diminishing resources, the feasibility of a refurbishment was not an option.

In the summer of 1987, Sebastian Cashen rsm, major superior of the Dublin community, shared with Mary Trainer rsm (Merion, USA) that the Dublin community was considering leasing the Baggot Street property. Endowed with a deep love for the birthplace of the Sisters of Mercy and with a vision for its potential, Mary asked that plans for the lease be delayed until she could elicit further dialogue with a broader Mercy base. Sister Sebastian expressed openness to further dialogue with the National Mercy Conferences, if Sr. Mary would initiate the conversation. In January 1988, Mary proposed to the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia (ISMA) Chapter and the Federation of the Americas the exploration of the desirability and feasibility of co-sponsoring Baggot Street as a World Mercy Centre. Both Conferences voted unanimously ‘yes’. The proposal was circulated among the other national groups – Mercy Ireland, Great Britain- the Institute and the Union, the New Zealand Federation, Newfoundland, Philippines and South African Congregation. All responded ‘yes’.

By May 1989 the first meeting of the International Steering Committee convened in Dublin. Representatives from the six national conferences attended: Australia, the Americas. The Union and the Institute in England, Ireland and New Zealand. Letters of interest and support also came from the Philippines and South Africa.


Members of the International Steering Committee at Baggot Street for the first meeting, May 1989
L-r: Srs
Regina Kelly ( Ire), Catherine Quane (GB Institute), Margaret Mary Kennedy (GB Union), Kath Burke (ISMA), Mary Trainer (America - Merion) & Mary Gleeson (Aotearoa New Zealand - Christchurch)

Even before this first the first meeting, Sisters of Mercy and lay colleagues throughout the world were asked to dream about possibilities for a Mercy Centre House and to share their dreams with the Steering Committee via their representative. The question was ‘If Catherine looked at Baggot Street today, how would she have us use this space?’ The dreams sent in from the various national conferences revealed a remarkable convergence of desires and hopes. These desires centered around five images:

  • Heritage
  •  A place of Pilgrimage and Hospitality
  • A world-wide Mercy Centre – unifying , bonding all Sisters of Mercy
  •  A place of renewal, research and study
  • Service of the poor.

The vision provided a moment of convergence and rebirth building on movements of unification already occurring in the Mercy Congregation worldwide. What potential there was for creating a shared space within which the many branches of Mercy worldwide might reconnect! Here was a living legacy, a wellspring of inspiration through which Sisters of Mercy and their lay colleagues could build a world in thinking in attitude and in structure.

Messages to: Mary Reynolds rsm - Executive Director MIA


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