February 10, 2015

'Mission is the pou or ridgepole of the house'

L-R: Kathy Lynch rsm and Kay Ryan, Director of Spirituality, in the Hospice chapel

Kathleen Petrie: Mission Coordinator for Nga Whaea Atawhai Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand writes:

I have now been almost a year in this role, having retired as the Principal of Carmel College, one of New Zealand’s five Mercy colleges, at the end of 2013. I was hoping to find a part-time role which would enable me to use some of the skills acquired over 30 years in education, and more than 20 of those in Mercy schools, so when I saw this position advertised it seemed like the answer to a prayer. I have to say that when people ask what I do now, the Principal’s job was much more easily understood; some people, including my own children, assume that I’m somehow involved in fundraising for “the missions” overseas!"

While many secular organisations would have a ‘mission statement’, quite often this is something that sits on a wall plaque and never assumes a reality of its own. Not so for Nga Whaea Atawhai, who have invested strongly in a Mission Team – He Waka Tiaki – covering the whole country. Successive congregational leadership teams have recognised that mission is the pou or ridgepole of the house and that, in ministries staffed largely by lay people, of diverse faiths and sometimes of no faith, the story of Catherine and the tradition of Mercy need to be constantly re-told and re-invigorated, and that core Mercy values need to be integrated in all aspects of their ministries.1

In practical terms, I liaise with six Mercy ministries, five in Auckland and one in Hamilton. Three of these are aged-care facilities, one is Mercy Hospice Auckland, and two are community outreach ministries based in some of the most economically and socially-deprived areas of our city – Glen Innes and Ranui. This liaison takes the form of regular meetings with mission teams within the facilities, liturgical celebration of key events, induction and orientation of new staff, provision of appropriate Mercy reflections for other meetings, and participation in strategic planning at executive level. Mostly, as Gabrielle Huria our national Kaihautu (leader) reminds me, I am there to respond to a need, and this has meant on occasion facilitating staff meetings to make a thorny decision, or mediating in an employment conflict.

As a Principal I was used to saying “It’s a good day when you learn something new”, and on that basis, the last year has been a very good one. I am constantly in awe of the care for the whole person I see in the aged-care facilities, where patients are increasingly elderly, increasingly frail, and with increased dementia. The “Spark of Life”2 approach which began in Australia, was pioneered in Auckland at Mercy Parklands and is now being adopted in other centres, truly incorporates the Mercy values of service, compassion and respect for human dignity. 

Hospice staff inspire me: they proudly tell the story of their origins and history, and Sr Margaret Timms rsm, one of the pioneers of St Joseph’s Mercy Hospice, is an honoured visitor; the present “hub” is the 13 beds, nursing, pastoral and administration facilities in the New Street building which was once the Mercy novitiate, while the community “spokes” enable palliative care for between 950 and 1000 patients over a 12-month period; the Mission Team includes representatives from all staff groups, and I work most closely with those from Family Support, Fundraising and Volunteer Coordination. 

As well as the very visible signs of Mercy around the hospice, in words, images and actions, there is a Catherine-like response to need in patients, whether that be for a new pair of pyjamas, a second-hand fridge in which to keep medication or the replacement of a carpet which was causing allergic reactions. Long-serving volunteers help to provide funding through the Hospice shops, the eighth of which was opened this year and through community events such as the O’Party for St Patrick’s Day. Volunteers also assist in the psycho-social support programmes such as the Opening Doors programme. The ceremony to honour long-serving volunteers and staff (between five and 25 years) was so large it almost had to move to another venue!

The variety involved in my position is wide, and over the past year I’ve become aware of the need to develop some measure of accountability in mission, beyond the anecdotal. I’m very grateful to Dennis Horton for the work he has done in this field, which resulted in the publication in 2001 of Te Putake Paerewa Tohutohu: Mission standards and indicators for use in subsidiary companies for the Sisters of Mercy Auckland Charities Ltd. I’ve also been looking at self-assessment tools from the USA and Australia3 in the hope of producing a framework for use in Aotearoa, with the help of the ministries here. Watch this space!

Messages to: Kathleen Petrie 

Sr Eileen Wrobleski’s article on 'Measuring Mission Integration (2003) has been very useful in thinking about my role

Spark of Life approach: is it the way to go?

Forming a Mercy Culture for the sake of God’s Mission. Sisters of Mercy congregation ministries in Australia 2010

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