April 27, 2010

Where Sisters of Mercy Minister: Aotearoa New Zealand (12)

Aotearoa New Zealand is a country that was uniquely founded in 1840 by Treaty between indigenous Maori Chiefs and the British crown. Sisters of Mercy came to Aotearoa New Zealand ten years after the country’s foundation in 1850. They were the first religious sisters to come to the country.

The initial sisters came from Carlow in Ireland to Auckland at the invitation of the bishop of the diocese of Auckland. The intended mission was for the Sisters of Mercy to minister to the Maori women and children.

Four Mercy congregations were founded in the period between 1850 and 1897. Those congregations joined on 12 December 2005 to form one congregation: Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa: Sisters of Mercy New Zealand. The combination of the Maori and English name of the congregation represents the congregation’s commitment to the Tangata Whenua, the people of the land. At present, there are 259 Sisters of Mercy in this congregation, serving in Aotearoa New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Chile, and Ireland. The ministries of the members in Tonga and Somoa will be featured in subsequent weeks; the ministries in Chile and Ireland have been mentioned in prior weeks.

Sisters of Mercy in Aotearoa New Zealand minister in the areas of education, health, aged care, community development, earth partnership, pastoral care, spirituality and creative arts. The congregation owns and manages five secondary schools, two health facilities, six aged care facilities, five community development facilities, three retreat centres, and has two incorporated organizations with earth partnership initiatives.

In the area of community development, Sisters of Mercy are involved in the provision of a wide range of services in consultation and cooperation with Maori people, other ethnic groups, and community agencies. Services include case work, advocacy, crisis intervention, personal development courses, healing therapies, spaces for art, adult education, health promotion, support for at-risk youth, community gardens, and promotion of sustainable communities. In addition, some sisters live in sustainable community housing and are involved in a wetland restoration project and the restoration and ongoing care of local streams.

Sisters of Mercy in New Zealand have a long history of involvement in music, speech, and art education, and they continue to nurture the love of arts. Some sisters are directly involved in music ministry and the provision of meaningful liturgical celebrations.

Beyond the involvement of sisters in the ministry governance of the congregationally-owned secondary schools, there are several Sisters of Mercy who have advanced degrees in theology and spirituality; these sisters teach at the tertiary level in diocesan and university departments of theology. Additional sisters are involved in teaching adult literacy courses and English to non-native speakers, as well as tutoring both children and adults in various subject matters.

While the initial call for Sisters of Mercy to serve Tangata Whenua (People of the Land) in New Zealand was lost at one point in the community’s history in New Zealand, that call has been reclaimed and embraced by the congregation. One of multiple examples of the congregation’s embrace of this reality is seen in its Statement of Intent of Our Bi-Cultural Reality:

Statement of Intent - Our Bi-cultural Journey

Through Baptism we are called to share in the mission of Jesus.

As Sisters of Mercy we are called to live our charism in response to the Mercy of God in a particular expression of justice and compassion.

It is in living out the mission of our baptism and the charism of Mercy in Aotearoa New Zealand that we commit ourselves to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

This is shown through our willingness and ability to continue developing an understanding of our relationship with Tangata Whenua in our exploration of life together and our ministry in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand.

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