February 26, 2014

'The shortest distance between two people is a story'

Editor: Stories paint a vision, share a lesson, capture an insight, give shape to experience, hold memory, supply a guidepost, forge a connection and unify us.

l-r: Mary Waskowiak rsm (Americas)
and Ursula Gilbert rsm (ISMAPNG)
at the Ballarat Mercy gathering.
In 1994, at the opening of MIC,
Sr Mary, then Chairperson of MIA,
commissioned the First MIC Team
of which Sr Ursula was a member.

On Saturday, 22 February at a Conference Centre in the city of Ballarat, in the south east of Australia, Mary Waskowiak rsm told stories out of our shared Christian and Mercy traditions (biblical and theological foundations of fundraising; mercy in action) and her own human experience that focussed our attention, recalled our history, gave voice to the 'invisible ones' and invited us to take action on their behalf.

Sr Mary, Director of Fundraising-Development at MIA, a former president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and of LCWR, is speaking to Mercy Sisters, as well as to members of other Congregations, during her month-long visit to Australia, co-sponsored by CLRI (NSW) and ISMAPNG.

The gathering was held in the geographic area of Mercy South B Community, in the heart of Wathaurong country (traditional owners of the land) with the Aboriginal message stick that formed part of the opening prayer ritual a significant symbol and presence (see the gallery of photographs below) .

In the explanation provided by Jeanette Morris, Mercy Associate and member of of the Wathaurong people, 'Historically a message stick was used by Aboriginal people as a means of communication whilst travelling through another language group’s or nation’s land. ...Today, the presence of a message stick at a gathering echoes the past – it serves to notify participants that there is a common purpose in meeting ...It not only recalls the presence of Jesus, it also brings Bunjil, the Creator Being for this region, into our midst. The stick also reminds us of the importance of reconciliation, the dignity of all human beings and calls us to journey with all members of our communities'.

Communication. Common Purpose. Spiritual foundations. In relationship. Reconciliation. Human Dignity. Journey. All members.

The stories that Sr Mary told held all these themes at their centre.

'I like to start in a place that has meaning for me,' said Mary, as she began to build a strong scriptural foundation for the concept of fundraising as a merciful action, 'and I love the Scriptures'. And so we learnt, for example, of the generosity in Exodus 25:1-9 of an offering (which could be gift)  from 'every person whose heart makes them willing'.

Having had our eyes opened to the messages relevant to fundraising in a number of Scripture passages, Mary made real, through story, the Mercy projects the MIA endowment fund will support into the future:

  • Working to eradicate the global trafficking of women and children
  • Advocating for water justice, access to clean water and sanitation
  • Addressing unjust and unsustainable mining practices
  • Ensuring the spirit and works of Catherine McAuley continue
  • Using our voice at the United Nations and
  • Welcoming everyone to Catherine’s House of Mercy – Mercy International Centre – in Dublin
  • How might we respond, what can we do?
    Mary suggested four ways we might respond in merciful action as we are 'all in this together':

    -Pray daily, for the ministry, for oneself and for others, that we might be opened to what this fundraising means
    -Live from a place of gratitude
    -Speak Mercy with our lives; have courage to be who we are
    -Engage others in appropriate ways

We invited a number of Sisters to share their responses to the presentation. These follow below.

To meet again with Mary W. was sheer joy, bringing many happy memories, mostly of the beautiful words of her commissioning at the Opening:
'We entrust to you the ministry of caring for this Mercy International Centre.
We invite you to be tenders of the heritage,
to receive pilgrims in simple hospitality,
and like Catherine, to be witnesses of the mercy of God
in this holy place
and through you may we and all parts of our world be transformed
by God’s tender mercy.'

The humble sincerity and simplicity of this great Mercy woman cheers me greatly!! It was a happy day and I enjoyed being in the group.
-Ursula Gilbert rsm


I found Mary's central and passionate approach of 'mercying', highlighted in her many stories of 'mercy in action', particularly inspiring and motivating for the fund-raising necessary to ensure a future for mercy through Mercy International Association. My gratitude goes wholeheartedly to Mary for her generous and untiring work throughout mercy world today in this challenging Development ministry of mercy.
- Nerida Tinkler rsm

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Mary in her extremely humble, engaging manner enabled me and I’m sure others, to see that raising funds for our Mercy Works is indeed a way of spreading the Kingdom and ensuring that Catherine’s work for women and children in particular will continue.

I was very impressed by the DVD clip and particularly pleased that trafficking of women received such prominence. Sadly, modern slavery as trafficking is often called, is a major problem in our world today. I believe that Catherine, if she were alive today, would herself be very active in anti-trafficking work. It is appropriate that the Spirit has inspired so many Sisters of Mercy worldwide to become involved in work to eliminate trafficking in all its forms.
- Carole McDonald rsm


The words Fundraising – a merciful action in Mary’s presentation last Saturday remain with me, as they offered me the opportunity to reflect on the many hours in my life that have been fundraising hours. As I consider the planning and involvement in the many fetes, raffles, school walkathons, a storybook ball, catering for film evenings to name some events, I also recall a wide range of 'merciful actions' that followed the success of these fundraising events.

As a former team member at Mercy International Centre, I bring to mind the many people who assisted as fundraisers for Catherine’s House. One such avenue for funds was the shop which sold goods made by many Sisters and Associates from around the world. Naturally, my musings about fundraising and the courageous decision by Mercy leaders worldwide to raise an Endowment of 20 million euros for the sake of 'merciful actions' into the future also reminded me of Catherine’s fundraising efforts, such as arranging the annual Charity Sermon, organising bazaars and letter writing to those in her neighbourhood and/or network who were rich.

Catherine was quintessentially a fundraiser! Her stance in life as a merciful woman would ultimately be the reason for the gift of a legacy that would make possible a now long tradition of 'merciful actions'.
-Faith Jones rsm


The greatest impact of Mary’s presentation was that of Mary herself as an example of the great depth of embodied practical wisdom we have as Sisters of Mercy International to draw upon to fill the various positions of leadership, especially this arduous task of fundraising for our big picture projects. It is as if particular individual sisters—may be each of us—have been in ‘life-training’ under the tutelage of the Spirit to arrive at a particular moment with the very best blend of personal qualities and capabilities.
- Trish Fitzsimmons rsm


The “Mercy Factor” is a daily call to renewal to look at both justice and love in our present and future world.

To have the opportunity to listen to a Sister of Mercy relay some of her life stories of encounters with people had the greatest impact on me. Through the encounter with these people she knew that she was experiencing Jesus – Jesus whom she had come to know through the gospels.

The challenges for me are:
1. To be open to “The Spirit of God that is a wild thing, breathing where it will, moving as it pleases.” I loved this line which was from a reading by Joan Chittister in our opening prayer.
2. To continually be open to God’s mercy call to MISSION for me in our world today.
3. To be open to all people and to network as we need each other and we need creative thinkers.
- Rosemary Patterson rsm


' You can kill the flowers not the seed' I really love that quote. Something about that quote reminds me of Religious Life and our own order. There are 4 of us left, two in Aged Care. Jill and I, we are the two remaining active ones.

I felt so affirmed of our journey with the Mercy Sisters. We are at a new place, We are not sure what the future holds, where God is taking us; we keep trusting and keep walking in Faith. Even though we are dying, we are living life to the full. It’s an exciting time in our history as Family Care Sisters and for the Mercy Sisters.
I believe God's good Spirit is busy creating something new for us. There is a lot of freedom in the letting go. I believe in the midst of our grieving, letting go, adjusting and in our vulnerability, there is a story of Courage and Strength.
-Michele Toussaint F.C.S


I really enjoyed the day. It is always good to catch up with a large group of sisters and I also found each part of Mary's talk interesting. Hearing Mary speak about the funds needed to continue the work of MIA, I realised that I could easily contribute to Australia's share of the funds from my own budget and I think many others would be able to do the same.
- Liz Dowling rsm


I found Mary’s presentation challenging and energising. The reality and challenges Mary presented in terms of our Mercy financial realities-costs in regards to ongoing mission internationally! What has stayed with me also was near the end of the day and in the context of Mary’s sharing the experience of the American sisters- ‘The Francis factor- which offers ‘Hope-Acceptance-Challenge’! The Mercy Factor- Our call is renewed daily! What do You and I see-A new creation? Death & New Life? Mary’s challenge and reminder to us : You know your story and your experience! What is our Mission today? Catherine’s legacy was Union and Charity! What will be our Legacy? 
- Kathy Ryan rsm


The aspects of Mary’s talk that had an impact on me were many, but perhaps the challenge Mary put to us was what touched me deeply:
What I can do -
live from a place of gratitude
share the Mercy story – by my life
quietly engage others – we share what we have- image of the loaves and fishes.
'The gift we have RECEIVED, give as GIFT.' (Matt 5)
‘We can never say, "it is enough." ' (Catherine McAuley)
- Marg Moore rsm


We have spent grace-filled time with Mary Waskowiak and my Sisters in Mercy. I came away with a heightened awareness and a deeper gratitude for all that is ours - we who have been invited into the Circle of Mercy - walking in the footsteps of Jesus and Catherine.

I experienced an enlivened sense of solidarity with Catherine and all those who have ministered and responded in Mercy today and down the years. 'I am who I am because of the people who have walked with me'; 'We are all in this together'.

The challenge is to respond in loving fidelity to the ongoing Call and Invitation that is ours. Our call is in Communio. We are invited to a deeper openness, conversion and vulnerability. 'The Gift you have received give as gift' (CMcA).

As we reflect on the Gift that is ours, may we respond with 'extravagant hospitality' to whatever challenges await us as we journey in Mercy. May we live from a place of Gratitude deep within our being. May the door of our collective Mercy Heart be always open!
-Marie Bourke rsm


Messages to: Mary Waskowiak rsm - MIA Director Development-Fundraising

Sr Mary spoke at length about religious life and leadership in an interview with the Editor. This will be published in a forthcoming issue of Mercy E-news.

The title of the above article 'The shortest distance between two people is a story' is a quote from Terrence Gargiulo (2007)

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