7 October 2016
Just shortly after 3:00 pm, Pugin Hall in Maynooth began its function in receiving those who had travelled to the University to participate in the day's events. These events would culminate in Sr. Margaret Casey's reception of an Honorary Doctorate on behalf of the congregation of the Sisters of Mercy.
This rather informal overture had a lyrical feel to it as, all who had the fingerprint of the Mercy Congregation gently inked on their spirit, expressed a shared delight at being present for this moment in history. There was the joy of meeting some older friends from all over the country as well as the opportunity to make connections, ad hoc introductions and greetings with other mercy-ing women and men.
The invitation to Renehan Hall marked the beginning of the formal proceedings of the day. So many people from the Mercy family, seated in the lecture hall, were anticipating the conferral, yet were invited to a reflection time. The rhythm of the events invited us to a collective moment of consciousness when we would honour the memory of the beginnings of the Congregation. In a particular way, through the three presentations, we were about to listen to, we were invited to communal reverence of how the Spirit of God at work in one individual could do so much -especially for those impoverished by society. It would be an honouring of 'Catherine' that both humbled and instilled enormous pride in all who attended.
From the opening notes of the overture, we had heard the fanfare of welcome. The exposition of the lectures was now accompanied by a genuine affirmation and a shared listening engagement of all who were here:- academia of the Pontifical University, leaders of the Irish Catholic Church, various leaders within the Mercy Congregation and many ordinary women and men from within and without the Congregation.
The trilogy of lectures formed a unity.
Part I. Professor Salvador Ryan who is professor of Ecclesiastical Theology spoke of the Mercy Congregation's place in history. He began by stating his gratitude for having had the opportunity to reflect on the myriad of contributions the Sisters of Mercy have made in Ireland. He highlighted the social realities of the world into which Catherine was born and the challenges presented to her. Professor Ryan briefly alluded to the rather unlikely start Catherine had in religious life and then went on to speak about the Mercy Congregation itself and the significant change the Sisters of Mercy made to the social transformation of Irish Religious Society. He noted the humanity of Catherine's approach to convent life. This was vital. Her surviving correspondences reveal a woman of humour and great flexibility. Her spirit imbues so much of the works of mercy in our time and continues to inspire much of the work of Sisters throughout the world today. (To read full text click here: 1. Opening Address )
Part II. Máire Ní Chearbhaill began by highlighting Mercy sources that facilitated research of the contribution of the Mercy Congregation to education. She acknowledged that much research had also been done in the Sisters' contribution to Health Care but that her research focus was education. She lauded the work of Archivists and publications and included a particular reference to 'The Call of the North" which Sr. Marie Duddy RIP had researched. In the restricted time available to her, Máire Ní Chearbhaill gave an overview of the Sisters' involvement in Primary education and Workhouse schools and the contribution of the Sisters of Mercy to the Third level/Training Colleges of Mary Immaculate (Limerick) and Carysfort (Dublin). A brief mention was made of the Sisters involvement with Preparatory Colleges, with the Weaving Industry (Skibbereen) Arts and Crafts e.g. Lace Schools (Carrick-on-Suir), the promotion of Montessori teaching methods (Waterford) and numerous references to the teaching of music. Dr. Maire urged us all to commit to the keeping of the records and the telling of the story. (To read a short extract from Dr. Maire, click here)
Part III: Sr Brenda Dolphin rsm who is the Postulator for the cause of Catherine McAuley spoke on Mercy – a vision and a Way of Life. After a brief resume of Catherine’s life in the context of a vision and a living of the charism, Brenda encouraged us all to look at Mercy as a way of life. Brenda’s sharing was challenging, asking all of us to continue to embrace the Jubilee of Mercy in celebrating the charism and through our way of living to give honour to God who will in the end judge us in how we treat others. "We will have to answer for our failure to look our brother and sister in the eye”. Brenda spoke of the broader world view and context and how to respond through the corporal works of mercy: -Cyber developments, lack of relationships, new modes of belonging in a technological world, decline of hierarchical systems, decline of Christianity etc. There was great passion in Brenda’s presentation and her conviction that true mercy seeks encounter and that hearts are touched by the witness of compassion. She concluded her sharing with a quote from JH Newman: "A heart is reached not through reason but through imagination". (To read Brenda’s presentation in full, click here)
At 5:15 having been enlightened, enthused and stimulated by three distinctive, yet contrapuntal lectures, we were invited to the College Chapel. We were given a quick but very comprehensive overview of the historical realities, the architectural features and the aesthetic beauty of a building that was completed in1881. It is the largest choir stalled chapel in the world. Carved in American oak because there was not enough Irish oak to provide for it, this Chapel has lasted beautifully throughout the centuries.
5:45 pm Solemn Vespers and Conferral
Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, presided at the Vespers. In his brief words of introduction and welcome he spoke of the Year of Mercy, “of mercy being at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of today". This ceremony being in the heart of the Jubilee of Mercy. While he suggested that perhaps 24th September may have seemed a more appropriate date for the conferral, the Archbishop acknowledged that perhaps the Sisters would have had celebrations of a different nature that day. However, he momentarily referred to the Mercy Day celebrations in the Cathedral in Armagh and in reference to where so many ordinary acts of mercy were honoured. So too, Sr. Consillio (Cuan Mhuire) and Mr. Eamon Meehan (Trocaire) were awarded a St. Patrick medal in honour of their mercy work. It had been a beautiful celebration of so many in our church who mercy others and mercy our world. He continued: "In the heart of the Year of Mercy, it is appropriate that the Church and Maynooth Theological Faculty would honour the Sisters of Mercy who live the charism in our time. The Archbishop pointed to the fact that today's celebration was being held after the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux and on the eve of the Feast of St Francis. He rhetorically added: 'What better time to celebrate the Mercy of God? '
The College Choir, under the direction of Professor John O’ Keefe led the singing. Sisters were directly involved in the Liturgy in proclaiming the Scripture, in reading from a letter from Catherine McAuley and in leading the prayers of intercession. It was a most beautiful and dignified liturgy and the Chapel Organ was heard in all its glory.
Academic staff robed after the Vespers for the solemn procession and for the awarding of the Doctorate. The Citation was given by Prof Michael Mullaney, Acting-President of Maynooth College. He spoke with great insight about the Congregation that Catherine founded. No one minded the occasional reiteration of what we had heard earlier in the day. His affection, experience and appreciation of the Sisters in his native Thurles, brought an intimate and local touch of which Catherine, no doubt, would have wholly approved. It was warm and sincere. Without negating the shadow side, Fr. Michael Mullaney allowed all present to rejoice in the good works of mercy-ing that had been begun by Catherine and are still being done by Mercy Sisters and Associates in so many countries throughout the world. When the conferral was complete, the resounding applause appropriately affirmed not only the awarding of the Doctorate but more especially, the Dublin woman whose passion for the poor and passion for the possible found expression in Baggot Street and spread out from there to five continents of the world.
(To read the Citation in full, click here)
When all were seated in the dining room Sr. Margaret Casey addressed those present. (To read Margaret's address, click here)
The final part of the day was the sharing of a lovely meal. It brought the proceedings to an end and all of us who were privileged to be in attendance knew that we had been part of something very unique, something greater than ourselves, something very special indeed.
Click here to read Archbishop Eamon Martin’s response to Sr. Margaret.
On the journey home, I held on to many moments of beauty from the day including the grace before the meal. Sr Anna Burke from the Western Province had led it, wishing the blessing of the harvest to nourish all who brought this food to table and praying for a blessing of the harvest especially for those who have no table. Her final words were: "May we be the food of mercy in the sharing of the bread. Amen," an appropriate last word to the libretto of a wonderful work indeed.
Perpetua McNulty rsm