March 25, 2014

Catherine Experiences at Mercy International Centre

In 1997 I was a volunteer at Mercy International Centre. One day I received a letter from Kathleen Quinn rsm Brooklyn, the community that I am associated with. Kathleen asked me if there was any possibility of me having time to facilitate some Catherine experiences with a small group that were thinking of coming to Dublin. My immediate response was ‘Yes, Come’.

Group at MIC
Anne Reid centre front in green
with Patricia March on her right
 

I had no idea what I might do but deep inside me somewhere I knew this felt right. For ten years I had been exploring Catherine’s Dublin, praying with her in her city and getting to know her as friend. Being involved in retreat ministry for a number of years I knew I could put something together. What it would be I didn’t know but I was positive about this request and excited too, as no doubt our Catherine herself was!

Nancy Whitley rsm from Rochester was on team at the time and I knew that she, having a great love for Catherine like myself, would be very happy with the request. Sure enough Nancy was every bit as excited as I was. In fact she did a little ‘joy dance ’as Nancy often did when things regarding Catherine and Mercy were talked about. With approval of the director we began to plan. Nancy and I took ourselves off to my house for a weekend where we prayed and we talked and then put together a four day programme which was to be an experience of Catherine in her beloved house on Baggot St and in her city of Dublin.

Walking and Praying (2002)
Anne Reid centre, red jacket
 

The Brooklyn Sisters were thrilled with the ideas put forward and five signed up for the programme. Then Catherine being ever busy, planted another idea in our heads and hearts and that was to open up the programme to others. Nancy and I agreed with that and we advertised. To our delight ten Sisters altogether applied.

In mid February it all happened. The participants came from US, England, Ireland and all had a most wonderful encounter with Catherine in her places and spaces, as did both Nancy and myself. They had hardly departed Baggot St when the two of us sat down again. This was not over, this was just the beginning. We knew this kind of experience needed to continue. So off we went again for another weekend of the same with lots of fun moments in the midst of the serious.

As a result of that weekend and paying great attention to the evaluations from the participants we created a weekend programme Friday pm – Sunday pm and titled it Walking and Praying with Catherine. Things were now on the move. In no time at all the word spread. Sisters and sometime later Associates from all around the world came to have a Catherine experience, to be with her, to get to know her better and to pray with her to the God who so beautifully touched her life and continues to touch ours today.

 
Walking and Praying 2005 
Anne Reid standing front left; Rosie Carroll rsm
third from left
 

I have to mention here and pay a tribute to Regina Kelly rsm who was on South Central team at that time. Regina believed in the value of this programme and she on behalf of her team wrote letters of invitation to the Sisters in the Province offering them to come to the experience. Often when asked at the opening session–‘ Why have you come’, the reply would be –‘I had a letter from Regina and thought I better come’. But whatever the reason for coming they went home very happy women of Mercy, touched by the spirit of their foundress and often their new found friend.

As the years moved on Walking and Praying developed into the longer experience of Come Home to Catherine and to other experiences according to the needs of the groups who wished to come to Catherine’s house. All these sixteen years and over a hundred programmes later the journey with her continues. Mercy people both men and women still desire to come to her places and spaces, even from countries that Catherine never heard of in her day. They want to get to know her and know about her. They want to be inspired by her continued presence in our midst and by her influence in our world.

Over these years it has been a joy for me to co-facilitate these programmes in the company of ‘Catherine Filled’ Mercy women, both past and present. I feel privileged to have been with Nancy Whitley at the planting time of this rich seed. I am blessed to have been a part of its growing, its nurturing and its flowering into what is life giving and empowering for those involved in the Ministry of Mercy today

Messages to: Anne Reid

Some participant reflections on the Catherine programmes over the years follow

Walking & Praying with Catherine McAuley - 1997:
• 'I would definitely recommend this retreat to others. It was a beautiful, spiritual and enriching experience and should be shared with all Sisters and Associates.'
• 'The atmosphere was brilliant. The whole experience was a turning point for me.'
• '...beautiful, so creative, feminine, gentle and passionate. I now have a sense of Catherine as a woman.'

Walking & Praying with Catherine McAuley - 1999:
• 'I really appreciated the weekend experience. It gave me time to experience Catherine's charism in a different way. It has renewed and refreshed me and I am grateful that you could pack so much into a short space.'
• 'The whole weekend was very relaxing, refreshing for body and mind and in a wonderful atmosphere.'
• 'Catherine was a wonderful person. I hope and pray to have some of that great spirit of Catherine and to share it with the people I live with and also with the poor.'

      

Catherine-related programme - 2001:
• 'As the senior sisters from New Zealand gathered around Catherine's grave there was a time to stop and remember Sisters of Mercy who touched our lives and who have gone before us. The sisters began a litany... With deep emotion I am sure every sister in the congregation who had died in the lifetime of those sisters was named. It is as if the crypt was gifted with the spirit of those deceased sisters and there was a true communion of the living and the dead. We came from the grave in a deep silence and with many tears. No words can express or describe the sacred moment that it was for us as a group of pilgrims.'

Walking and Praying with Catherine McAuley - 2002:

• 'During these days I was led to a deeper "sense of place" not only through prayer, reflection and sharing in the space of MIC, but also through my journey to Georges Hill, Coolock House, Stormanstown, and walking through the streets of Dublin as Catherine once did. Each of these places was a wellspring of inspiration, blessing and hope to me during these days. Our founding story of Mercy, of Catherine's own mission and ministry, now have a new and more meaningful place in my own personal experience, in my memory and especially in my heart. I am so grateful that I have been called to be part of that larger story of Mercy in our world at this time.'

Come Home to Catherine - 2003:
• 'In my Coming Home to Catherine experience, I have come to know the woman, Catherine. Prior I had knowledge of her but I now have a living relationship with her. I begin each day in her presence and with her I come to my god of Mercy. Catherine is my true "Anam Cara" who knows me better than I know myself and no matter what is happening in my life she is always there loving and caring for me.' (Annette McCartan rsm, Glasgow Scotland)

Walking and Praying with Catherine - 2004:
• 'I have met Catherine anew. I will be starting anew in my old, old age and I'll be dancing in my bedroom each evening until I breathe my last!' (91 year old Irish Sister of Mercy)

      

Come Home to Catherine - 2006:
• 'As a Biblicist I recognize the importance of context to a text and of how knowing how the world operated in Jesus' time (the who, what, when, where, and why) adds to one's understanding of the texts of the New Testament. Such is also the beauty of the "Coming Home to Catherine" program I recently took part in at Catherine's house. For the more I visited the "spaces and places" of Catherine, the more I allowed myself to touch and be touched by her story, the deeper I entered into it...'

Come Home to Catherine - 2008:
• 'Every day there was a new highlight! However, the visit to Coolock House was very special. It seemed to me that Catherine was living her long retreat (her hidden life) before the great work of initiating the Sisters of Mercy to spread Mercy around the world, especially among the world's poor and forgotten.'

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