March 15, 2010

Where Sisters of Mercy Minister: Australia (6)

The first Sisters of Mercy to cross from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere were Ursula Frayne rsm and her six companions who traveled from Dublin on a ship called The Elizabeth and arrived in western Australia in 1846. They took a riverboat to Perth and established a new foundation in order to meet the educational needs of the pioneering society. Other Sisters of Mercy who made a similar journey to establish and supplement the new foundations in Australia include delegations from Ireland and England. Those from Ireland include sisters from Belfast, Co. Antrim (1872); Callan, Co. Kilkenny (1888); Charleville, Co. Cork (1866); Derry, Co. Derry (1898); Dublin, Co. Dublin (1859); Dungarvan, Co. Waterford (1888); Ennis, Co. Clare (1875); Rochfort Bridge, Co. Tipperary (1875); Swinford, Co. Mayo (1876); and Westport, Co. Mayo (1859). Those from England came from Bermondsey (1884) and Liverpool (1865). In addition, Sisters of Mercy traversed the ocean from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Australia in 1880.

Today, all of the Sisters of Mercy who minister in Australia (approximately 1500) belong to the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia.  This Institute is currently undergoing a re-imagining process from its present structure of 17 congregations in Australia and one autonomous region in Papua New Guinea.  The ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in Papua New Guinea will be featured in a subsequent week.

The Sisters of Mercy in Australia minister in both urban and rural Australia advocating for people whose voices are not often heard; sharing their time, energy, and resources so that people can have quality of life through the ministry of various Mercy organizations; continuing to minister in creative ways in education, health and aged care, and social welfare arenas; and enabling women and men to have fullness of life through a range of pastoral and spiritual ministries.  They are educators, theologians, scripture scholars, writers and publishers, researchers, archivists, historians, musicians, artists, environmentalists, ecologists, bio-ethicists, ecumenists, canon lawyers and lawyers.  They minister in interfaith relations, with media and communication technologies, administrative institutions, and offer hospitality in a variety of ways.  They are compelled to respond to global issues and address issues of injustice with a profound belief in the dignity and equality of all people, and they all commit to a lifelong journey of discovery of the Mercy of God which is so often found in the lives and struggles of the suffering and poor.  Specific peoples and ministerial concerns to which they are committed are: asylum seekers and refugees; women and poverty; eco-justice; and indigenous concerns.

The Sisters of Mercy in Australia fulfill their ministry commitment in partnership with civic communities, other religious organizations, Associates and partners-in-ministry.  They sponsor and co-sponsor ministries in the areas of education (including at least 14 schools, a library, a foundation supporting students in health care ethics, and housing and support services for teenage girls trying to finish their education); health care (including hospitals, aged care facilities, and organizations providing services to women with mental health issues), social services (including low cost accommodation facilities; organizations providing services to homeless women, families in domestic violence situations, and people with disabilities; respite care organization for stressed or lonely mothers; and other welfare agencies); spirituality (including retreat centres and a house of hospitality); communications media (through Fraynework); and refugee services (through Mercy Refugee Service).  Some of the congregations have joined together to ensure the continuation of ministry sponsorship responsibilities through the formation of Mercy Partners which has received the status of having a public juridic person, and there is the commitment to preserve and make available the heritage of ministry in the area through heritage centres such as the one found in Brisbane. 

In 2000, Mercy Works Inc. was established to further the justice, human rights and development work of the Sisters of Mercy and their ministry partners in Australia and elsewhere.  This organization is the Institute’s chief means for strategically implementing the collective commitment of the 17 Mercy congregations in Australia that form part of the Institute.  Programmes Mercy Works Inc. currently supports in Australia are in the areas of community and school education, refugee support, and indigenous concerns.

For more information, visit the websites: www.mercy.org.au and www.mercy.org.au/mercyworks

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