Sabbatical Retreat Reflection
In 2019 I (Dora Salesa) was awarded a Board of Directors travel scholarship. My plan was to undertake a journey to get to know more about Catherine McAuley. I found the Sabbatical Retreat on the Mercy International website. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for. The following is a review of sorts, including my recollections and learnings from the encounter with Catherine.
As a Mercy girl through and through, the Sisters of Mercy have had an enormous influence on my life. The Sisters that I met over the years, both personally and professionally have helped to shape me. I have always admired these women, for their compassion, conviction, independence, and much more. While I knew that Catherine McAuley was the founder of the order and that Cecelia Maher established the Sisters in Auckland, they were distant figures to me. Continuing in my new role as Director of Special Character, I wanted to learn more about Catherine herself. Who was this woman that has had such a huge impact on the world through her Mercy movement?
Over the course of a month in Baggot Street, I came to know Catherine: a woman of faith, a loving daughter, a mother, an inspirational leader. My admiration for Catherine grew immensely over the days. By tapping into her deep faith, my own faith also developed. Furthermore, my encounter with the other participants, Mercy sisters from around the world, further enhanced my experience. The relationships that we formed will last a lifetime.
We began our program, as we did each day, with prayer and reflection. What were my hopes for the week and month ahead? We then discussed what we already knew about Catherine and then began exploring the places and spaces of Catherine, her connections, and her faith, guided by Mercy Associate Anne Reid.
We began week two with a desert day – a day of reflection and journaling. The rest of the week included a day trip to Glendalough and the monastic city there, a day of spirituality with Carmel Bracken rsm, and two days reading and discussing Catherine’s letters with Āine Barrins rsm.
Glendalough is a must-see. It is a most beautiful place – a ‘thin’ place (Irish term for somewhere people can be closer to God).
We again began the week with a desert day in which we were encouraged to use the idea of standing on ‘holy ground’ as our focus. By taking a meditative walk in the sacred garden at Baggot Street and noticing, leaning in, and feeling its sacred nature we were asked to reflect on where God had been leading us in the past week. The following day we went for a three-day trip to Knock - International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine.
The days spent at Knock were for our own spiritual renewal. We were free to explore the Chapels and grounds, participate in Mass, adoration, reconciliation, or just quiet contemplation.
On returning to Baggot Street we finished the week with a contemplative walk along the Grand Canal.
Our final week seemed to arrive very quickly. For this week we took some time to explore storytelling. We came to recognise the importance of stories and of passing stories on. As part of the Mercy story I am called to continue passing on Catherine’s story, the Mercy story, and adding my own story to it. We also spent a day as a contemplative practices workshop, carrying out visio divina, lectio divina, a short contemplative walk, a session about vulnerability, and a guided meditation. Wednesday was our desert day while Thursday was a day of sharing. We finished the week by ‘Gathering our Graces’ in the Chapel, with a closing ritual and farewell meal.
Sharing within our group was very moving and I feel blessed to have been able to share my sabbatical retreat with such a wonderful group of women. Learning about Catherine in such a personal and intimate way has reaffirmed for me my Mercy calling. My vocation as a mother and teacher stems from it. Visits to Glendalough and Knock were also highlights of my trip. Quiet times for prayer and reflection were also treasured and they gave me many ideas for prayer, liturgy, and retreats. Finally meeting a fantastic group of Mercy women and sharing the experience with them made it a truly memorable time. While a month may sound like a long time, it really doesn’t seem that long at all, once you are there. The sabbatical retreat is open to anyone involved in ministry, and I would highly recommend it to anyone, whether you are wanting to know more about Catherine or just looking for spiritual nourishment.
Join Mercy International’s Sabbatical Retreat in Dublin, Ireland from 1 October through 28 October, 2023!
This four-week gentle retreat will balance speakers, sessions, and reflective time in Catherine’s house. Participants will be led on a journey to explore our Mercy roots, have access to spiritual direction, and be provided with thoughtful materials for contemplation and renewal. Weekends will be free for participants to immerse themselves in the local community and Irish culture.
The cost of the programme includes accommodation at Baggot Street and all meals. Stipends will be provided for occasional dinners out. Participants will receive a welcome packet with a prepaid local transportation card, visitor passes to local museums and churches, and access cards and information for day trips to Irish and Mercy heritage sites. Optional pilgrimages to Knock Shrine and Glendalough are included.