Circle of Mercy Celebrates 20th Anniversary (The Congregation)
The Circle of Mercy is a Roman Catholic association of men and women who are attracted to the vision, values and mission of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy and desire to live the Gospel in the spirit of Catherine McAuley. Members come from different walks of life; maintain their own homes, families and lifestyles and after a period of orientation, discernment and preparation, they enter into a formal commitment to the Circle of Mercy for a specific, renewable period of time.
The lyric of the 1969 song ‘There’s something in the air’ struck a chord in the Iontas Centre, Castleblayney on 9th September 2017 as over 100 women and men gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Circle of Mercy in the Northern Province.
The celebration had been planned for over a year and it didn’t disappoint. With the theme “We should be as shining lamps, giving light to all around us”, the members of thirteen Circles of Mercy with more than 30 special guests celebrated ‘Mercy’ in an atmosphere of pride and friendship. After a delicious lunch, all gathered in the theatre around a centre-piece resembling a woodland path and symbolising ‘The Path of Mercy’. Una Wallace from Downpatrick Circle welcomed everyone.
The ceremony began with the procession and placing of the Central Candle and the recitation of the Opening Prayer by two members of Ballinamore Circle. With their interpretation of Seamus Heaney’s beautiful poem ‘The Diviner’, Downpatrick Circles dramatised our ‘beginning’. Just as the hazel rod stirred and the spring was suddenly revealed when the diviner placed his hand on the wrists of the bystanders, so it was that when Sr. Maureen McGurran (R.I.P.) placed her hand on the arm of Sr. Bonnie Brennan, the spark was lit and the dream of “a new way of being Mercy” was awakened .
The solemn section on ‘Remembering’ began with Sr. Marie Cox’s evocative rendition of Liam Lawton’s ‘There is a place’. We remembered, with immense gratitude, all our deceased members who influenced our lives with love and goodness and continue to affect who we are and what we do. Candles were placed, in their memory, on the garden path around the water feature and it was very fitting that the first person to be remembered was Sr. Maureen McGurran (R.I.P.) and the person placing her candle was Sr. Bonnie Brennan.
An integral part of our major celebrations is always the ‘Procession of Symbols’. Each circle is invited to present a symbol which will both incorporate the theme of the celebration and represent what their circle does. As usual, the circles came up with novel ideas, from candles and lanterns to hands and paintings. A short commentary on each symbol was read as the symbol was placed on the ‘Path of Mercy’. Before long, the ‘path’ was ablaze with light, emphasising the theme: “We should be as shining lamps, giving light to all around us.”
The Commitment ceremony which followed began with the members of a new circle standing in front of the whole assembly to make their first commitment. And how fantastic that the new circle should be based in Castleblayney. Castleblayney has always been referred to as ‘the womb of the Circle of Mercy’ as, until its closure, Castleblayney Convent was where that the Core Group met; it was where the Preparation Programme was compiled and where the late Sr. Celine McArdle (R.I.P.) and Sr. Margaret McQuaid accompanied us to the door after our last meeting there. Sr. Margaret started the new circle in Sr. Celine’s memory. Sr. Marie Cox opened the Commitment Ritual by singing the Suscipe. This was a special moment for our members as all the local circles have been listening to Sr. Marie’s recording of the Suscipe at meetings over the last twenty years and it was a real treat to hear the ‘live’ version.
After all existing members had made their re-commitment, Sr. Mary O’Connor introduced the Guest Speaker, Sr. Clare O’Reilly from the Southern Province, who gave a most inspirational talk. She spoke so lovingly about her own father, who was a diviner, and how he invited men to join him in the search for water. She recalled seeing grown men drop to their knees and cry when the water sprung forth. Sr. Clare went on to say:
“I am excited by what we witnessed here today. Those wonderful symbols of life and light that each of your Circle of Mercy Groups presented to us as part of your ceremony of celebration today are evidence of the impact this wonderful movement has made on your lives….
To the Northern Province I say thank you for the courage to start this movement away back in 1997 when Maureen McGurran invited Bonnie Brennan to be the Co-ordinator of this new way of being Mercy….
I have seen and experienced that love of Catherine with my own eyes within the Circles of Mercy. I have been enthused by it. I make a plea today for more sisters to support the Circle of Mercy movement - become involved in Circles of Mercy where you can....”
Barry Davey from the Core Group presented Sr. Clare with the gift of an individually hand-crafted ceramic model of 64A Baggot Street.
Sr. Ann Brady, Provincial Leader of the Northern Province, was invited to speak and during her address she said: “We give thanks today that the attribute of Mercy has been enthroned in our hearts and that the quality and spirit of Mercy is tangible in all members of The Circle of Mercy in our Province over the past 20 years. We give thanks for all who are blessed in giving and all who have been blessed in receiving Mercy, for as our hymn says ‘ The Circle of Mercy is timeless, it is spirit of Life itself’.”
The Core Group of the Circle of Mercy had been working on the development of their Statutes for many years and it was the fulfilment of a long-held aspiration that all the work was completed for this special occasion. Sr. Ann continued: “Today it is an honour and privilege for me to formally present the Statutes of the Circle of Mercy, Northern Province, to you Catherine Mc Evoy as Co-ordinator. I invite you, Catherine, and other officers of the Core Group - Mary O’Connor, Deputy Co-ordinator, Margaret Campbell, Secretary and Margaret O’Neill, Treasurer - to sign the Statutes.”
The four signatories came forward to sign this historic document in front of the Assembly and when the signing was complete, Sr. Ann and Sr. Margaret Casey imparted a beautiful blessing on The Circle of Mercy.
In her address as Co-ordinator, Catherine particularly thanked Sr. Cecilia Cadogan of the Central Leadership Team for all she had done to ensure that the Statutes were approved by both civil and canon lawyers in time for the anniversary celebration. Speaking about The Circle of Mercy, Catherine said she had personally witnessed how members were empowered through membership and the witness and life of Catherine McAuley. Catherine also gave thanks to Bonnie who “inspired us, encouraged us and taught us what leadership and empowerment are all about. You led us to this point and then you gave us our wings.” Bonnie retired from her position as Co-ordinator of the Circle of Mercy in 2016 and in recognition of the unique and inspirational contribution she had made to the creation and development of The Circle of Mercy, Catherine presented her with a ceramic model of Baggot Street with the message “Hand-crafted especially for Bonnie”.
The lighting of 23 commemorative candles bearing the Circle of Mercy logo introduced the Closing Ritual, which continued with the presentation of lighted candles to ten of the invited guests. Representatives of the thirteen circles were then invited to come forward to receive a candle and a copy of the Statutes. As the Circle members carrying the lighted candles processed to their seats, Sr. Marie led the Assembly in the singing of ‘Go light your world’.
The planned ceremony was almost complete at this point but there was a very special addition to the afternoon’s programme when Sr. Ann Brady called Bonnie to the podium to present her, “on behalf of Provincial Leadership Teams past and present”, with an exquisite Belleek Pottery Lamp “for the Light you have been and continue to be, we bless and thank you.
Bonnie, we have no doubt that back then in June 1997 both you and our beloved friend Sr. Maureen McGurran RIP were acting under the influence and guidance of The Holy Spirit with whom we associate not just sparks but ‘tongues of fire.’
We acknowledge our debt of gratitude to you, Bonnie, that guided by the Holy Spirit and by your love and reverence for our Foundress Catherine, and in close co-operation with so many others, you kindled that spark and fanned it into a flame.
That flame, a new way of being Mercy, was entrusted to the movement so aptly named The Circle of Mercy. Today we rejoice with you that through the dedication and enthusiasm of all Circle members, the flame is burning brightly in 2017. Bonnie, we thank you for all you have done to nurture and sustain the flame, to protect the light ensuring that the beacon of Mercy continues to shine forth.”
The ceremony ended with the expression of special thanks to Sr. Lily Sexton, who had worked with the Core Group over the past year in preparation for the event, and to Sr. Marie Cox, whose angelic voice and skilful guitar playing made the celebration even more special. The Iontas Centre, as always, was the perfect place to host such an event.
Messages to: Catherine McEvoy - Coordinator, Northern Province