In its 180-year history it would always have been quite impossible to separate the name Sisters of Mercy from the term ‘Parish Work’. From the beginning Catherine McAuley’s Sisters were known as ‘the walking nuns’ in contrast to most Sisters of the time who were enclosed or semi-enclosed – education being the work that brought most of them into contact with people outside their convents.
Catherine McAuley intended her Sisters to be based in the local community, dealing with all the difficulties experienced by the people. This they did in the local parishes. They educated children, nursed the sick, prayed with the people, taught music, gave art and craft lessons and led children and adults to deepen the faith to which the people had held firm through penal times.
As life and society progressed and developed and parishes became more defined in their identity the Sisters helped with parish liturgies and with visitation of those who were sick or in any kind of need.
In the well developed Parish structure of today Sisters continue in Parish work. For some it is their full-time work while for most it is part-time and voluntary. Sisters still visit people in parishes, bring communion to the sick, companion the lonely or just stop by for a chat. Some train choirs, provide music accompaniment for liturgical celebrations or organise parish worship for various occasions and events. They have catechetical classes for adults or for special interest groups, have sessions for those who are interested in becoming Catholics or answer the need as its arises in the parish. Many serve on Parish Pastoral Councils.
The work that can be done in a parish is endless and there are few parishes in which we live that some Sister is not involved in its life and work. It is like the air we breathe – we have been rooted in the local from the beginning and we continue to serve there.