In the autumn of 1998 Sr. Helena O’Donoghue, the then Provincial of South Central Province, called a meeting of Sisters and lay people who were interested in setting up an association which would broaden the scope of the Mercy charism. The gathering met in Portlaoise, and to everybody’s amazement, there was a very large crowd. This was at the time when Mercy was going through a very difficult period in its history as a result of a T.V. programme called “Dear Daughter” about the work of the Sisters in industrial schools. The main speaker was Ann Reid. She was an inspired choice. Ann was an associate member of Sisters of Mercy in the U.S. and her wonderful enthusiasm was infectious. It was immediately decided to proceed with founding Mercy Associates in the South Central Province. The plan was to begin by appointing a Sister as mentor to each local group, so that the history of Mercy and its Foundress, Catherine McAuley, would be the foundation stone of the organisation. From the start it was clear that those interested were friends and workmates of the sisters, and they were very well aware of what was entailed. There would be no extra burdens imposed, and the call was to a Mercy spirituality which was honouring the Christian lives they were already living so faithfully. The coming together for monthly meetings would strengthen the desire for holiness and lead to outreaches suitable to each group. Each year there would be a ceremony of commitment to strengthen the bonds between the Associates and the sisters.
Mercy Associates Logo
The person given the task of training the mentors was Sr. Caitriona O’Hara, who was a member of the current Provincial Council. She used all her skill and creativity, and by the time she left office the Associates were on a very firm footing. We had abundant proof of her hard work in the wonderful celebration of the twentieth anniversary which took place in Baggot St. on Saturday, September 29th last.
The core group decided to hold the celebration on the 240th birthday of Catherine McAuley, and to have it in her own house on Baggot Street. There were 84 participants from 14 different groups. The leader was Sr. Sally Mounsey, and she was assisted by a very efficient core group. The link person with the Provincial Team was Sr. Mary Margaret Costigan. It was obvious that great thought and work had gone into the day, because it had all the seeming ease of being trouble free!
Lighting the candle
At 11.30am we assembled in the international room. God blessed us with bright sunshine, and nowhere better to enjoy this than in the room which Catherine choose for her first classroom nearly 200 years ago! We began with a very moving ritual at which two people from each group presented a candle and the history of the group. The candles had open hands and the Mercy cross on one side and Pope Francis’ words about Mercy on the other. He tells us that “Mercy is a force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with Hope.” One of the most enjoyable and inspiring ingredients of all activities was the presence of an amazing music group, which lifted all hearts and kept them elevated even after the day was over!
Catherine, herself visited us in the person of Ann Reid. She gave us wonderful insight into the spirit of Mercy, and gave a sense of its relevance to our lives today. Many probing questions were asked and answered as only one steeped in Mercy and in love with Catherine could.
The community in Mercy International facilitated us in every way, and we enjoyed an excellent dinner with an enormous birthday cake which was shared among us very generously.
The afternoon began with a ritual at Catherine’s grave. Again, Ann Reid was to the fore with a detailed description of Catherine’s final days and her funeral. Behind her grave a beautiful rose bush, which was donated by the Australian Mercies, and which is called Catherine, was blooming in all its golden splendour.
At 3.15pm Fr. Piaras Jackson S.J. celebrated Mass. The altar is in the direct line with a magnificent stain glass window of Our Lady, and as the sun beamed in it lit up the celebrant. It was so evocative of Catherine’s great devotion to the Mass. Pierce obviously knew the Mercy Sisters in the Cashel diocese very well, and this made for a very warm and meaningful liturgy. The gospel was The Finding in the Temple, and he emphasised the final sentence – Mary pondered all these things in her heart. He encouraged the hidden life of prayer and ordinary goodness, and his words rang very true for followers of Catherine. Again the music group raised the spirits and made it an occasion to merit a treasured memory. Associates from all the different groups participated actively in the various ministries, and the joy was palpable.
After Holy Communion Sr. Helena O’Donoghue addressed the gathering. She encouraged all to continue in the future with those small steps that had brought us to the present, and she quoted from Pope Francis and Cardinal Casper on the wonder of Mercy.
When the Mass ended the sun was still shining as we went forth carrying our candles back to our groups, and with them new energy and hope for the future!
Sincere thanks to all who worked so hard to make the day so enjoyable and inspirational. Special thanks to Catherine who began it all nearly 200 years ago!
Kathleen O’Keeffe rsm
South Central Province