Informal groups of associates began to form in the 1980s but Associates of Mercy in Ireland had its formal beginnings in the 1990s. Outline structures were put in place though groups were encouraged to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and define their own identity and character. Over time they clarified their identity around prayer, meaning in life, companionship and mutual support.
The nature of association is not closed and holds possibility for new forms. Though Catherine McAuley and her followers gave a specific form and direction, mercy or compassion is broader than the Mercy congregation and this rapidly changing age calls out for different forms and directions. Time commitments need to be flexible too, as monthly meetings suit some but not all and less frequent/more-involved meetings may be an option for others.
At present, the norm is a monthly meeting of about an hour’s duration and an annual general meeting of all groups.
Wherever seedlings of a charism take root, they need to be nurtured and cultivated. So if you are a Sister of Mercy and feel called to start a group of Mercy Associates in your area or know someone who may like to become an associate, contact your Provincial team or an Associate director and you will be put in touch with people who will support and guide you.
Northern Province – Circle Of Mercy
A Circle of Mercy in the Northern Province is the coming together of compassionate people from different walks of life, who wish to live the gospel according to the spirit of Catherine McAuley in today’s world.
In this new relationship of Mercy, the emphasis in on equality of the members. From the outset, laywomen as well as Sisters of Mercy were involved in the development of the concept. Another distinguishing feature of the ‘Circle of Mercy’ is that numbers are small, the suggested number being eight to ten members – allowing for maximum participation in sharing. Where more people are interested we advise the formation of a second local circle rather than increase the existing numbers.
There are 13 Circles of Mercy up and running throughout the Northern Province, involving approximately 100 members and it is a delight to see the flourishing diversity of Mercy life. Areas that had two circles in the past have now combined, resulting in the lower number of circles. In 2017, one new circle from Castleblaney made their first commitment on 9th September 2017.
Leadership of the local ‘Circle of Mercy’ meeting is rotated.
Southern Province – Circle Of Mercy
To “explore the creation of a wider Mercy family” the Circle of Mercy was set up in 2005 with the help of Sisters from the Northern Province. It is the coming together of compassionate people from different walks of life who, with Sisters of Mercy, wish to live the gospel according to the spirit of Catherine McAuley.
Its aim is to enable one other to come closer to God, to deepen our understanding of an integrated spirituality, to grow in compassion so as to respond with loving kindness to the needs around us.
Members agree to promote the Mercy Charism in accordance with their calling in life. They meet once a month.
The core values of the ‘Circle of Mercy’ are:
- Compassionate Service
The first year is devoted to reflection on the life and ministry of Catherine McAuley. After this, members are invited to enter into a period of discernment to see if God is calling them to this new relationship in Mercy. Those who feel that this is right for them then make a commitment for one year, to their local ‘Circle of Mercy’. Each circle then takes on a life of its own and a variety of expressions of Mercy emerge.
In the interest of shared leadership, each member of the Core Group is linked with two to three local circles which are grouped together in a cluster. Re-commitment is made at cluster level. Members of all circles are invited to the annual Plenary meeting for sharing of ideas and forward planning.
Western Province – Mercy Associates And Together In Mercy
Some of the members from Together in Mercy and Mercy Associates at their annual gathering in Claremorris. The theme of the meeting was “the Year of the Family”. A mother from South Africa from the Local Refugee centre and three Kurdish young women from Leitrim joined us for the meeting. They shared their stories of family and how they experienced life here. We were very challenged and inspired by their sharing.
Members with postcards depicting the holy family taking flight into Egypt, reminding us that many families today take flight from famine, persecution and war. They rely on us for support and a place to call home. The group distributed these cards in parishes throughout the province.
The group also distributed a number of booklets entitled “Ten steps in bringing your child nearer to God” – simple steps which we thought would be helpful to parents.
South Central Province – Mercy Associates
The Mercy Associates of South Central Province was established in 1998. It is helpful to revisit that event that took place in Portlaoise in January of that year. A meeting was called of Sisters and lay people who were interested in setting up an association which would broaden the scope of the Mercy Charism.
To everyone’s amazement a very large crowd responded. The main speaker was an Associate member of the Sisters of Mercy in the US. It was immediately decided to proceed with the founding of Mercy Associates in the South Central Province.
The plan was
- Begin by appointing a Sister interested in Mentoring a group
- Initially those approached would be friends or co-workers of the Sisters
- All being invited were to be well informed of what was entailed
- There would be no extra burdens imposed
- The call was to a Mercy Spirituality which would honour the Christian lives they were living
- There would be monthly meetings which would strengthen their desire for holiness and lead to outreaches suitable for each group
- There would be annual renewal of commitment
Mercy Associates of South Central Today
Mercy Associates at Regional Meeting in Limerick
Our aims are still those formulated in 1998 and adapted to changing times. There are now 14 groups spread across the Province which stretches from Rush, Co Dublin to Kilrush, Co Clare. Membership is mostly women but there are a few men. We have been encouraging lay people to take on the role of Mentoring and theat is now the reality in most groups. Sisters in such groups play a much appreciative supportive role. We hold a Gathering in both parts of the Province each year where we have input on a relevant topic and time also for looking at any other issues that the Group may have. These are usually very well attended and help in the bonding of our groups.
Celebrating the Big Event
On September 29th, 2018 we gathered from across the Province in Catherine’s own house in Baggot Street to celebrate the 20 years of the life of the Associates. The day was also very significant because it marked Catherine’s 140th birthday.
It was truly a day to remember; the sense that we were truly on holy ground was felt by all. It seemed as if it met us at the door and stayed all through the day. There were many moving rituals during the morning and time to visit the room where Catherine died. An enjoyable dinner was followed by a cake cutting ceremony. The afternoon began with a touching ritual at Catherine’s grave where we heard a detailed description of Catherine’s final days and her funeral. The evening sun was beaming through the magnificent stained glass window of the Chapel as we gathered there for Mass.
As we left to begin our homeward journey a member of each group was given a commemorative candle with a Mercy cross on one side and Pope Francis’ words on Mercy on the other, reminding 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.’ What better message could we get to sustain us on our Mercy journey into the future!