August 12, 2015

'To live the gift of Mercy': Message from the Catherine McAuley Symposium

Editor: Every two years commencing in 2008, the four Australian Mercy Congregation Leaders have jointly sponsored a Symposium on Catherine McAuley which is held in different Australian cities to enable maximum participation by Sisters and Partners-in-Mercy. This year the Symposium was held in Cairns, Newcastle and Melbourne.

Image: L-r: Berneice Loch rsm, Institute Leader (ISMAPNG) with Brenda Dolphin rsm (The Congregation), Postulator for the Cause of Catherine McAuley at the Melbourne Symposium. Photo: Anne Walsh

Saturday, 8 August saw the conclusion of this year's Symposium in Melbourne. How fitting it was that on the feast day of St Dominic Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order (Truth) and of Australia's first saint Mary MacKillop, co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (Justice), that we should be gathered in the name of Catherine McAuley - 'a woman who had a real heart for Mercy'- to hear from Brenda Dolphin rsm, Postulator since 2006 for the Cause of Catherine McAuley. The gathering took place at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy where Ursula Frayne, the twelfth Sister of Mercy, established the first Mercy house in Melbourne in 1857 and where she is buried in the Chapel that bears her name.

Brenda teaches at the Gregorian University in Rome in the areas of psychology, human development and psycho-spiritual integration. It was through these lenses that she invited us to explore anew the life, gift, challenge and legacy of Catherine McAuley to each one of us.

The Symposium was structured to have the keynote address by Sr Brenda first then respondent presentations from two local ministries with some time for questions/reflections from the audience.

In Cairns, Far North Queensland, the first of the three Symposium settings, Maryanne Kolkia rsm addressed the gathering on the empowerment work of women and men in Papua New Guinea through Mercy Works Ltd. Alice Muir & Gabrielle Cassard, senior students from All Hallows School, then spoke of the influence of Catherine McAuley on their lives and action for justice through the school community.

In Newcastle, northern New South Wales, respondent presenters were Louise Campbell, Indigenous Elder and Consultant in Indigenous Spirituality at the Newcastle Catholic Education Office and Felicity Reynolds, CEO of the Mercy Foundation, a ministry of North Sydney Congregation that makes grants, advocates and works in partnership with other organisations to help bring about an end to homelessness.

In Melbourne, Victoria, Jocelyn Bignold and Angela Reed rsm were the respondent presenters.  Jocelyn Bignold is CEO of McAuley Community Services for Women which provides support, advocacy and accommodation for women and their children who are experiencing homelessness, primarily as a result of family violence or mental illness. Sr Angela has recently completed her doctorate and undertook the field work component of her research on domestic sex trafficking in the Filipino province of CEBU. Angela is a member of ACRATH, the organisation through which Mercy Sisters work in addressing the issue of human trafficking.

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Reflections from some members of the audience at the gatherings:

'I went out of interest to learn more about the Sisters of Mercy who had taught me in the 1950's / 1960's. We knew the nuns were Irish, Ireland was a long way away and we loved their accent. At that time, it was about "reading, writing, arithmetic, music and sending money to the poor babies in New Guinea"....we were never aware of the mercy story.
Sr Brenda Dolphin clearly explained why Catherine McAuley, because of her own upbringing and then good fortune, understood the need to care for people and educate girls.
The mercy story has spread far and wide. Since leaving school in 1969, I have met many women and men, whose lives have been fashioned by the values they learnt from the Sisters of Mercy, e.g., having spent my working and private life in music, there have been countless occasions when we have been involved with a performance for a charity fundraiser. When I would look at the voluntary group of musicians, most of them had started learning music from the nuns. With my own students, each year we did some kind of community concert, e.g., Nursing Homes, Special Needs Schools.' (Patricia)


'A learning for me was not to know Catherine from mere facts in her history, but capitalize on the theme “the unexpected in our lives.” Sister Brenda’s presentation of Catherine, the unexpected in her life, how she handled this and her ever-readiness for the gifts from God was a delightful way of living our lives forward and not backwards.
I have a better understanding of Catherine’s resilience- how she always found a way to get around a situation, her steeliness (if that’s a word) when working with the poor.' (Hugh)


 “I was enthusiastic after hearing Sr. Brenda Dolphin rsm address us... I have been lukewarm about this cause all along – and maybe you have been also - but I learnt yesterday that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints while certainly looking for holiness of life in the person is perhaps more interested in analysing the spread of the charism. Brenda said, and we would agree I think, that it’s lay people today who are taking the charism forward; I found it heartening that that is a significant component of the requirements. In Catherine’s case there are obvious proofs. As an aside, Brenda also said that ‘The Congregation for the Causes of Saints might possibly concentrate more on the last ten years of a person’s life, than on the earlier years, when searching for the validity and holiness of that life!’” (Margaret Quane rsm, Brisbane Congregation)


The time spent listening to Brenda and hearing the many questions sisters asked of her and her enriching replies made for a very pleasant and deeply worthwhile afternoon’s experience. (Patricia Nolan rsm , Brisbane Congregation)Read complete article here


'Listening to Sr Brenda Dolphin talking about Catherine was both warming and inspiring. Catherine's spiritual strength created through prayer, study and hardship enabled her to learn from experience and live creatively. She knew loss and anxiety well, yet was never crushed. Brenda spoke of the three unexpected events in Catherine's life: her inheritance, her founding a religious order, her saintliness being acknowledged by the Church. Through these God found Catherine as God may find each one who is open to daily unexpected events and she changed from her own inclinations. May I be as open to God as Catherine was.
Another point to look at is that Catherine knew her need for Mercy. Mercy is Love in action. So accepting self as I know myself before God in humility is knowing my need for Mercy. I believe I can draw confidence and strength from the beatification/canonisation of Catherine.
Renew us, O God.' (Agnes Murphy rsm ISMAPNG)


'I was particularly taken with Brenda’s reference to time: past, future and present. The past, Brenda said is history. The future is really a mystery and the present is the gift by which we come to know eternity. Catherine’s capacity to see the present as a gift of God, a constant gentle, sometimes surprising calling, offers deep inspiration for Mercy ministry. To see life as a summons into the mystery of God in the service of others is a compelling, even saintly, legacy.' (Tony Haintz, Assistant Principal - Catholic School Culture, Damascus College, Victoria)


What a joy to be with so many Mercy friends from all over Australia.
Then to hear Brenda and her insights on Catherine was special as she holds such a crucial role in Catherine’s canonisation process. I liked the three unexpected things Brenda noted – becoming an heiress, a foundress and now on the way to be canonised.
For us, Mercy sees need and moves to compassion in action. A challenge always!
Thanks to the organisers of the Symposium. (Therese Power rsm)


The presentation was most inspiring, introduced by students of the Academy of Mary Immaculate with a prayer that was truly Mercy-orientated and showed just how sincerely Catherine's values are being inculcated in this particular school.
Our past as Sisters of Mercy, rooted in the extraordinary life, values and spirituality of Catherine was presented by Brenda as the criteria ,on which our present action and mission must hang. I particularly appreciated how Brenda highlighted an aspect of Catherine's spirituality - her ability to accept the unexpected in her life, both the negative and the positive. This gift enabled her to accept change in her life.
A new understanding was how Catherine, while at George's Hill, was careful to keep in check her anxieties about Baggot Street and what was happening there.
The vast body of research and the witness of Theologians on the sanctity of Catherine's life, especially the last ten years, seems to be sufficient material to warrant her canonisation; but even if she is not raised to Sainthood, her holiness, her letters and what others have written about her continue to inspire us and the many other people who are now learning of Catherine and the Mercy Ethos.
Thank you, Brenda for a great day. (Moira Sheedy rsm ISMAPNG)


We felt extremely privileged to be in the company of the Sisters of Mercy at the final Symposium for 2015. We were welcomed with lively conversation and a strong sense of unity.
We took away the image of Catherine's Christ as the abandoned and crucified Christ…“My poor abandoned Jesus.”
Our new learning was that we must be open to seeing the cross or the abandoned within our own communities.

Catherine's constant and eternal faith in our merciful God and her unyielding faith, validates her candidacy for Sainthood. “A woman of God and a woman of vision.”
She was the epitome of 'Mercy as love in action' or more appropriately a reaction to the needs and suffering of others. It is her legacy that urges us forward in our work and faith today.

We are constantly moved and reformed by the way Catherine's life and mission, are present in our own lives today. We have been inspired to push ourselves to give our all, with trust in our God.
“We are prophets of a future that is not our own.” This underpins what we do as educators, and as active participants in our world.
(Bethany Edwards, Monique McGrath, Bambi Afford and Shelley Ryan.
St Francis Xavier Primary School, Ballarat East, Victoria)


Download Sr Brenda's presentation: A4 Paper Size (12pps; PDF)     US Letter Size (13 pps; PDF)



Messages to: Brenda Dolphin rsm - Postulator

As reported in Mercy eNews issue #615 (8 April 2015), this year marks the 25th anniversary of Catherine's being pronounced Venerable

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