April 27, 2010

Mercy Leadership Pilgrimage: Australia/New Zealand 2010

Text by Jan O’Connor
Photos by Anne Hetherington rsm

From far flung lands we came
We took the dreaded flight
But it never would deter us
for Dublin was in sight
‘Twas Catherine’s Dublin to which we came
To hear of her life and her cause
To walk in her very footsteps
To open up Mercy Doors.
Hurrah! Hurrah for Mercy!
As Catherine would surely say –
May we always keep it in our hearts
As Catherine did in her day.

On Saturday 10th April 2010 an excited buzz permeated 64A Baggot St Dublin. The echoes of Australian and New Zealand accents could be heard in the dining room, as a new group of 35 pilgrims began to get to know each other over ‘a comfortable cup of tea’.

Many were still flight weary, but I sensed that most felt as I did- thrilled to actually be here in Dublin, excited at the thought of being in Catherine’s own house and very grateful to the Mercy congregations who had so generously sent them.

As the days of gathering, of input, of excursions and of fun progressed, I believe this became even more apparent. People soon bonded, bound together by the common thread of Mercy in their lives and their work places. I feel sure that we will all return to our homes and our work with a new and revitalised sense of making Mercy the centre of all that we are about – living Mercy to the best of our ability and filled with beautiful and lasting memories of this very special house and of the people who led us on this wonderful journey.

A night out at the Dubliner
concluded our first day
A ’grand’ (my Irish) meal we had- and everyone agreed
If Irish food is all this good, we’re on a winner I’d say.

Progressing through the days we’ve been privileged to hear such speakers as Sr Deirdre Mullan, current Director of Mercy Global Concern, representing the Sisters of Mercy at the United Nations. What marvellous insights were given us as she spoke of the challenge of being Mercy in today’s world! We were left with such thoughts as: ‘How do we bring the Mercy of God to all creation?’
We heard that the world needs thinkers and people who pray with their feet. We learned that we have to go beyond statistics, as they are really ‘information with the tears wiped away’ (Solarno).
Mercy is more than compassion – Mercy is action!

Throughout the days, we’ve been blessed with wonderful, symbolic reflections, led by the Mercy International team and in particular, Srs Aine Barrins and Mary Reynolds. For me, the powerful moment of taking our candles, representing all present and placing them on Catherine’s grave was very special. Again, our reflection at the crypt where early Sisters of Mercy are laid to rest at St Teresa’s Church, was, I felt, just beautiful.

A bonus too was a mass in Catherine’s chapel with Fr Frank Brennan – a strong Jesuit voice for our Australian community.

Coolock House!! How grand it stood in the sunshine – yes sunshine. We discovered, in spite of the forecasts, that the sun really does shine in Dublin. I felt that a visit to this place, so important in the story of Catherine, helped to fill out the pictures we may have conjured up in our minds when reading the story. To me it had a special feel about it and it was almost like Catherine herself was showing us around. It reminded me too how Catherine’s accommodation certainly went from grand to bland. Again we concluded with a beautiful reflection.

The visit later in the afternoon to George’s Hill where Catherine made her novitiate and professed her vows, another very important chapter in the Catherine story, put the finishing touches on the day.

Our understanding of Irish history has been considerably enhanced through the great knowledge of Dr Yvonne McKenna, from the University of Limerick. The impact of the potato famine and the harsh times into which Catherine was born became much clearer, as was the importance of political heroes such as Daniel O’Connell.

Then came an evening of food, folklore and fairies
The stories we heard were often quite ‘raries’
But the history lessons were again revised
With a little embellishment-just for size

Again we were privileged to hear Sr Dervilla Byrne speak on Catherine as leader. We saw a model of leadership that placed service at the top of the list – of a relational leader who recognised and developed the gifts in others. We also saw a leader who was not afraid to face the difficult task. However, Dervilla also ‘balanced the books’ by showing the human frailties of Catherine, thus making the idea of emulating her a possible, rather than an impossible, task.

Mercy leadership was again enhanced through the wisdom and experience of Mary Reynolds (director of Mercy International Association) and Denise Burns, a local school principal. We learned of the approach to Mercy Leadership - of leading with passion, with energy and with the wisdom of listening. We were reminded that the inner life is the one that is most important, needing to focus on that above all else.

To take things to the practical level, visits were arranged to schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and other areas covering the ministries of participants. It was wonderful to be able to see firsthand what is being done on this side of the world in relation to our own particular areas of interest. A major feature of the visit, when hearing feedback from the group, was the experience of wonderful Irish hospitality extended to all. We were made to feel especially welcome at all venues and were most grateful to those who had extended it to us.

Adding to the fun area was an evening at the Landsdowne Hotel that night to experience the entertainment of The Irish House Party. We all enjoyed a great meal and a ‘sing –along’ and for some, even a ‘dance-along’.

Another highlight was also a visit to the monastic town of Glendalough. We walked the paths and saw the ruins, taking us back in time and leaving us in awe of what had been done and built by the monks in early Christian times, actually beginning Christian history in the area. It was made into more than simply a walk by the wonderful spiritual input of Fr Michael Rodgers - a man who was able to transfer the idea of a cosmic spirituality for us all, through his poetry and wisdom.

On our final couple of days we were given the opportunity to reflect on the Pilgrimage Program and to evaluate it. This gave us an opportunity to consider our journey and to look back on these special days. On the Sunday this was topped off with a liturgy together in Catherine’s chapel enhanced by the music of the beautiful Telford organ played by Sr Margery Daly, a member of our pilgrimage group, and the Pilgrimage Dinner at O’Connell’s Restaurant. Our final lunch at Mercy International Centre on the Monday gave us an opportunity to share again and to bid farewell to new found friends. For many of us the farewells became extended with delays and unanticipated side tours courtesy of the volcanic ash in the atmosphere and the Irish Aviation Authority.

I feel that we owe a special debt of gratitude to those who have led us on this journey. Firstly a great vote of thanks must go to Sr Anne Hetherington, whose vision and management skills gave birth to this pilgrimage- many thanks to Anne and her assistant, Sr Mary Pescott. Sincere thanks must also go to Sr Mary Reynolds and her Mercy International Association team, Srs Aine Barrins, Mary Kay Dobrovolny, Carita Irwin, and Noreen O’Sullivan. To Sr Sylvia Williams and her team at Mercy International Centre we send our gratitude – Madeleine O’Hanlon at reception, Liz O’Sullivan in the kitchen and Joseph Tomina Dabitora attending to the house. You have been the real face of Mercy to us all over these days – you have done Catherine proud! And of course, coupled with this is our gratitude to the Mercy congregations who have made this possible for us.

In conclusion, I believe that this pilgrimage has given us an opportunity to be gently bathed, or even gently soaked in Catherine and her story – the story out of which began the Sisters of Mercy. But even more importantly, as I mentioned in the beginning, is the fact that we will take back to our homes and our workplaces a new vision of what being ‘Mercy’ in our world really means, and the importance of its application, in a very real sense to our lives and our work.

I’d like to finish with a little verse, addressed to all participants:

‘If this Pilgrimage you have enjoyed
If it’s been a great adventure
A little word I’d like to say....
Just don’t forget who sent ya!

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