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Mercy Mission

Ministry of Spirituality

Thank God for diversity, and for the variety of gifts with which we have been blessed which enable us to endeavour to respond to ‘the questions and struggles of our time’ (Chapter Statement 2006).
The Ministry of Spirituality has been my main preoccupation since 1986, and, as it evolved, it has taken a variety of forms mainly in one-to-one situations. While I am engaged in Spiritual Direction and Individually Directed Retreats it is the Week of Guided Prayer (Retreat in Daily Life) which calls me into contact with people who, for one reason or another, may not be able to afford more formal and lengthy spiritual accompaniment.
This ministry is offered at Mercy Place, 2, St. Brigid’s Court, Athboy, Co. Meath and engages a team of six, four lay women with Sr. Noeleen Reilly and myself. It also calls us out to other parishes and we have yet to find someone who did not thoroughly enjoy it, and benefit from it – finding themselves drawn into a closer personal relationship with God and finding meaning in the ups and downs of every day living. This experience is very enriching for the Guides as well.

Sr. Bonnie Brennan directing a retreatant

The expansion of the ministry of The Week of Guided Prayer highlighted the need for more labourers in the vineyard so we undertook several training programmes for Prayer Guides in various parts of Ireland (and one in Zambia). Following on this, with the dawning of a greater awareness and understanding of the place of supervision in the Ministry of Spirituality, a training programme in supervision was devised for our more experienced Prayer Guides. This provides for both individual and peer supervision for the general body of Prayer Guides. The objective being, that in each area where a Team of Prayer Guides is ministering, they have support for themselves and accountability to the wider Faith Community.

My other great love is Mercy Spirituality, with a special emphasis on the life and ministry of our Venerable Catherine McAuley. With the formation of the Northern Province in 1994 we discovered that none of the eight member-dioceses had had a history of Mercy Associates. I was asked to co-ordinate our efforts in this regard and my response was, ‘Yes, provided the laity is involved in the design.’ What emerged, after three years of study, and reflection on the Spirituality of Catherine by a Core Group, was an association with a difference. We call this new model 'The Circle of Mercy' – one where members, whether lay or religious, are on equal footing. Since our commitment to each other is in the local circle, rather than to the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, it has the potential to continue the spirit and charism of Catherine into the future – beyond our time. There are now fifteen circles in the Northern Province embracing one hundred and thirty-nine members – one hundred and thirteenlay members and twenty six Sisters of Mercy – many of the latter say that it is only now that they are getting to know and appreciate Catherine McAuley. Of course this new relationship in Mercy is still in the exploratory phase, working on the principle: ‘make haste slowly.’
Sharing Catherine’s spirituality with a wider audience at home and abroad is another aspect of my ministry in recent years. This takes the form of talks on aspects of Catherine’s life and ministry and has climaxed in a six-day retreat, which Noeleen and I offer together, entitled 'Going Deeper with Catherine'. This is preferably a silent, residential experience but it can be adapted to other circumstances.

Circle of Mercy, Athboy, Co. Meath

Another of my interests, which has far-reaching effects, is researching Catherine’s life and that of her first companion, Mary Ann Doyle, and having it committed to print. 'It Commenced With Two' – the story of Mary Ann’s relationship with Catherine and her commitment to Catherine’s ideals for twenty-five years after the death of our foundress, has travelled far and wide – even though Mary Ann herself never left Ireland! 'According to Catherine' is a more compact book offering a thematic approach to some of Catherine’s more popular sayings. It can serve as a handy reference book but is intended more for personal prayerful reflection.
In November 2007 I had the privilege of participating in the Mercy International Research Conference, held in Mercy Centre, Burlingame, California. My paper addressed 'The History of the Ministry of Spirituality of the Sisters of Mercy of Ireland'. Through a process of theological reflection history and present-day social analysis were brought into conversation with the Mercy tradition. From this exercise the conclusions drawn under, Vision, Theology and Praxis, offer us a hopeful and challenging blueprint for Mercy Ministry in the Twenty-first century.

Sr. Bonnie Brennan

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