UK -Irish Mercy Archives Conference 2015
A Sea Dance-Exploring our Mercy Links
The inaugural UK-Irish Mercy Archives Conference was held in Mercy International Centre. This conference materialised after many years of discussion. The talks took place between archivists in the seven provinces of the Congregation and the archivists of the Institute, Union and Federation of Sisters of Mercy in the UK. The aim was to strengthen links, explore connections and have a mutual exchange of learning and begin a sharing of archival resources.
There was an excellent turn out of 54 delegates. This included archivists, historians, academics with an interest in Mercy history, Mercy researchers and representatives of Mercy leadership. Everyone contributed to the success of the conference. Hopefully, the future will bring further explorations and interactions between Mercy archives throughout Ireland and the UK.
The first Uk-Irish Mercy Archives Conference took place at the Mercy International Centre ,Baggot Street, Dublin on Tuesday 30th June-Thursday 2nd July 2015. Below is a review about the Archives Conference from Juliet Walsh.
“A sea - saw dance to Liverpool
And a merry jig that has no stop to Birmingham
Another to Bermondsey
When ….. you and I will join hands and dance…….. back on the same ground!
(ext. letter of Catherine McAuley to Sr. M. deSales White, 20 th Dec. 1840)
It was not the best time of year, one would think, to have an Archival Conference – in June/July when one is feeling the effects of a busy year gone by and setting one’s face towards a longed-for rest. But what a surprise awaited the 54 sisters and friends who gathered in Baggot St. from all corners of the world to attend the conference – in a “privileged choice of venue, where the Mercy story began”.
We were treated to three days of exhilarating stories of “courageous women of Mercy who inspired by the charism of Catherine went forth and still go forth to bring hope and compassion in places of need” (from keynote address of Margaret Casey). All of this was presented in an atmosphere of joy, laughter, lightness and Mercy hospitality.
The conference began with a warm welcome by Mary Coyle who set the tone for the three days. The Eucharist which followed was celebrated by Piaras Jackson S.J. whose family breathed the Mercy air in his homeland of Cappamore and Doon. In his homily Piaras made reference to the see-saw dance of Catherine’s letter –“ the energy, discipline, creativity and practice all brought together, see-sawing, stepping apart, coming together and sometimes a merry jig, sometimes feeling the support of clasping hands. To dance in this way asks that one be ready, be poised, be exuberant and restrained, be balanced. So much, he said might be said of dance, so much too might be said of a Sister of Mercy; it is only by being in balance and by having a sense of vitality that it is possible to look on the world with the compassion of God.”
The keynote address by Margaret Casey, Congregational Leader, was inspiring, all embracing and challenging, Margaret stressed the importance of Archives and left us with the question “What must we do to ensure that the Mercy Story (charism) in all its forms is captured in the Archives?”.
The many stories that were shared over the course of this conference brought home to us the importance of keeping records. There were inspirational stories about sisters who, while carrying on their professional work, developed their creative and natural talents. We heard of Sr. Colmcille Cunnane a music composer whose Magnificat was played at the Eucharist, Sr. Aloysius McVeigh, an iconographer, who wrote the beautiful icon of Our Lady of Derry and Sr. Joan McNamara a renowned poet. Other stories were of foundations from the U.K. to Ireland and from Ireland to the U.K.
We listened again to the pioneering work of the Sisters of Mercy at the Heritage Centre, Handsworth, Birmingham, in education in Ireland, their first Training College established in Baggot St. that later moved to Carysfort, Blackrock, and the involvement of the Sisters in World War I and in the Crimea. In all of this remembering and telling, the role of the Archivist was vital.
I felt enthused to experience the interest of many young people who are studying aspects of Mercy Life in their research work. We heard from Adelle Hickey on the “Habit of Mercy”, and from Alan Carty on the involvement of Ballyroan Preventorium and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Dun Laoghaire in the treatment of tuberculosis in Leinster in the late 19 th century. Danielle Hicks-Gallagher who, with Mary Kay Dobrovolny rsm gave a lovely presentation on Sr. Clare Moore’s “Illuminated Manuscripts” One felt that the charism was still holding the light in the world of 2015.
An inspiring presentation in paintings on “Our Mercy Journey” was given by Anne Reddington, a U.K. Sister of Mercy who sees art as her way of “encountering Mercy” Her paintings which were on display in the chapel during the conference were a source of reflection for us.
I think what impressed me most was the recording of the human face of Mercy – stories of joy, of friction, of struggle, starting foundations and closing others, journeys between Ireland and U.K. and U.K. and Ireland, see-sawing between work and play, between contemplation and action and always responding to the call of the poor.
We were presented with a wealth of archival material and I couldn’t but reflect on the gap in the historical record if this hadn’t been recorded. In her presentation Anne Marie McQuaid rsm highlighted the importance of oral archives and how the personal story of a sister is indeed a “treasure trove” In a unique way, the personal story captures the wider picture of community, lifestyle and the culture of the time.
The message of the conference for me was the value of the work of the Archivist in preserving the Mercy story and above all my own responsibility in contributing to this preservation.
It was a time to give thanks for the blessings of the past and an invitation to draw strength and encouragement for “our service in the reign of God” (Piaras Jackson S.J.)
“For what has been, thanks … for what is to come… YES
A special word of appreciation and gratitude to Marianne Cosgrove and Mary Coyle and all who worked with them in organising the conference, to Dee McKenna, our facilitator, who kept the balance between laughter and work, time and leisure and to the staff of Baggot Street for the rich nourishing meals and the proverbial cups of tea that kept us awake all through the conference!
By Juliet Walsh rsm