July 29, 2004

Founding Stories

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"The universe is made up of stories, not atoms" (Muriel Rukeyser). That is especially true of the universe each one of us inhabits. We are shaped individually and collectively by the stories we remember and share. Our stories carry our history, our meaning, our purpose, and our roots. We know people best when they tell us their story and we know ourselves better when we reflect on our own. As you read through the pages of this edition of Mercy Live you will be both inspired and challenged by stories of pioneering women from the past and the present , through whose courage and vision the seed of Mercy has been carried in places as far apart as Coolock and Nairobi, Brazil and Belfast, Soweto and Trujillo, You will marvel at their creativity, their resourcefulness, their ability to maintain hope and a sense of fun in the face of the most difficult circumstances.

We celebrate our tenth birthday as Congregation this year. On July 14th 1994 we gathered in the basketball arena in Tallaght, Dublin from 27 separate units to form one Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. That was a day of hope, of joy and of celebration for us. And celebrate we did! The place was resplendent with colour and the air filled with music. We danced and sang, met old friends and made new ones. We shared our hopes for the future and spoke of our potential to effect change. The beautiful ritual of the mingling of water, which had been carried from South Africa and from all parts of Ireland, and the greeting of each other in many different languages captured both the diversity of gifts among us and the unity at the source of our Mercy lives.

The hope that in coming together as one Congregation we could pool our resources and be more effective in our Mercy Mission was articulated in a declaration by a chorus of over one thousand voices during the ritual on that day:

We women of Mercy
Called and gifted by God and by each other,
Today formalise new bonds
And new relationships among us,
Enlivening and strengthening us for Mission.

(Declaration on July 14th, 1994)

AnchorOur first Congregational Chapter took place in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra in August of that year and there we grouped ourselves into Provinces, Regions and Mission areas. We focused on six areas –women, family, poor and marginalised, justice, life-giving communities, integrated spirituality- as our way forward in Mission and we committed ourselves to be 'bridge-builders in a broken world'.

Our beginning as Congregation coincided with the re-opening of the door of Catherine’s house in Baggot Street to be a home-space and a place of hospitality and renewal for the global Mercy family. The ceremony there in July 1994 to mark the re-dedication of the 168 year old building as Mercy International Centre also involved the mingling of water from around the world into a stream that now continually flows in the garden in Baggot Street.

Much has happened in the ten years since 1994. We have much to celebrate as we reflect on the journey we have made. We rejoice in the new bonds of trust and friendship that are developing among us, the growing awareness of our being an International Congregation, the new members joining us, the faithful continuity of Mercy ministry in education, child-care and health, the enthusiasm and commitment of our lay colleagues in carrying forward the mercy ethos, the new ministry shoots emerging in response to today's needs, the rich contribution of our Mercy Associates.

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As we look back over ten years we recognise too that areas of our lives and of our Mercy story need reconciling. There are broken relationships that call for restoration, hurts needing to be healed, the reality of loss and diminishment needing to be acknowledged and embraced. The call and the challenge to be bridge builders in a broken world is as fresh and as relevant today as it was ten years ago. Back then we had little awareness of the hidden brokenness and pain that was about to reveal itself to us in a very startling and dramatic way. In the midst of our ongoing turmoil we have been faithful to continually pondering on the call of God to us within that unfolding story. In our time of need the call of the charism did not fail us. The call is to compassion, to tender-heartedness, to making hospitality towards all our special care.

We take this opportunity of our tenth birthday as Congregation to pause

  • to celebrate and give thanks for what has been
  • to attend to what needs to be reconciled
  • to refocus our vision for the future.

Over the coming year we will have opportunity to participate in processes, events, rituals on each of these themes.

May our reflecting on all the stories within these pages and our remembering of our shared past energise us in the present and nourish us on our journey into the future.

Breege O'Neill rsm

Reprinted with permission from Mercy Live, the newspaper of the Sisters of Mercy Congregation, June 2004 (Issue 9)

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