March 09, 2006

Bermondsey, Catherine’s first foundation in England

We take the opportunity to update you on further developments taking place in Bermondsey in the light of the decision in 2002 to promote the convent as a House of Heritage and Hospitality.

The House is becoming ever more extensively used by researchers both national and international and for many groups and sisters. In addition the collection of significant archival material from Institute Houses continues.


It is good to be able to preserve, store, and display these in a fitting manner.

The importance of this ministry has been highlighted again for us by the document Marion and Barbara have produced for the website. With their permission we quote from it,

‘The Mercy Archives throughout the world preserve the memory of Catherine McAuley’s choices and all the choices that have proceeded from them. In the archives, Mercy Memory is stored. Our archives are not just Mercy records, but contain the story of the poor and dispossessed in every corner of the country. They are interwoven with that of the people we serve and therefore are an integral part of our national and church history.

‘Archives are the footprints of Christ on the world.’ Pope Paul VI

The improvements in the accomodation area, while not elaborate, are deeply appreciated by all visitors. We are now looking to improve and maximize on the areas for display without encroaching on the space and privacy needed for community life and other aspects of mercy ministry.


There will be some structural alteration to open up the two front rooms to make display, sitting and circulating areas, the provision of wheelchair access and disabled toilet facilities. The Chapel will become multifunctional. A very beautiful glass screen engraved with the works of mercy will create a small intimate Chapel for community use. This can be opened for larger congregations when required. The rest of the space will serve as a conference or function room. The area under the canopy will display sacred vessels and other valuable artifacts of a spiritual nature. Cross doors on the main corridor just beyond the front stairwell will ensure the privacy of the community.

Event Communications are undertaking the project. They are already very familiar with our story because of their involvement in the Handsworth Heritage Development. A quote from their website will be of interest

“Event is Europe's largest creative group specialising in museum and visitor attraction design. Since 1986 we have directed over eighty major projects around the world. Many have gained awards. Their positive contribution to local development and self-awareness has been recognised by governments and business. Over nine million visitors pass through Event-designed projects each year.” (worth a visit)

The added attraction for us is that their UK Office is in Bermondsey, just five minutes walk from the Convent. Celestine Phelan the Director of Events writes ‘Bermondsey and Handsworth will be equally wonderful but completely distinct.’


The Heritage display is confined to the ground floor corridor to the end of the stairwell, the reception rooms, foyer outside the Chapel and the area under the choir balcony at the back of the current chapel. Many of the treasures held in Bermondsey will be incorporated into an interesting telling of our rich Mercy Story for all who visit the Convent and not just those who visit the Archives.

This is a project that the Community in Bermondsey have had in mind for a long time and they know that it will be gratefully received by the parish, schools and the many visitors who come there. The tour of the
exhibition can be self-guided and a Sister will be there to offer hospitality. There will be many interactive features and audio visual materials.

Bearing in mind the place of education in our charism, the design takes account of curriculum links and key-stages in the English education system. In undertaking this project we have been very concerned to keep clearly in mind that underlying, surrounding and enriching this heritage ministry, the mercy work which brought us to Bermondsey in 1839 continues.


Needs change over the years but prayer, outreach to the local church, parish and community including visitation of the sick, lonely and housebound continue as most important facets of our ministry. School assemblies are given in primary and secondary schools and the work of two members of the community in Mercy Missions in Kenya and Peru continue to be supported.

This would be a good moment to remind us all about the importance of keeping up to-date with our own community annals. Catherine McAuley herself stressed this she wrote:

‘If any person . . . does a favour to the Sisters of Mercy, or even speaks kindly of their Institute, it must be noted in the Annals, and all future generations of the Order must testify gratitude by daily prayers for the benefactor.’ We finish with the concluding words from Marion and Barbara’s article.

Just as the Gospel writers recorded the events and words spoken by Our Lord for the benefit of those early Christians, to sustain their faith and so pass on the story of His wonderful life to later generations, so too we rely on the written words of our Foundress and the early Sisters to give us inspiration and encouragement for our varied ministries today. As Archivists we have a duty to make available these inspiring words in as many ways as possible to reach out to sisters, laity and researchers who wish to explore this charism of Mercy.

Reprinted with permission from Eleison, Issue no 241, a publication of The Institute of Our Lady of Mercy, Great Britain.

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