A pastoral scene with the two Armagh Cathedrals
The Sisters of Mercy have been in Co Armagh since 1866. Today, the Sisters live in Lurgan, Craigavon and Bessbrook, and advancing years have not diminished their enthusiasm for ministry or their involvement in the life of their local communities and parishes.
Convent of Mercy, Edward Street, Lurgan
The Convent in Edward Street, Lurgan, is a powerhouse of prayerful support for the local community, where the Sisters, known locally as ‘the nuns’ are privileged to be held in high regard. Sisters here witness to the power of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. They pray for the needs of the world, and respond to visits and calls seeking prayerful support for people in time of personal crisis.
Other Sisters live in ones or twos in small houses in a number of residential areas in Lurgan, and one house in Craigavon, and are engaged in ministries including sacramental preparation for children who attend controlled schools and for adults preparing for reception into the Catholic Church, parish ministry, home visiting music lessons, supporting members of the minority ethnic communities, family support, spiritual direction and counselling.
The Parishes in which the Sisters are involved in are:
St. Anthony’s Church, Craigavon
On Sunday 22nd September 2013, Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, celebrated Mass in St Anthony’s Church, Craigavon, Co Armagh, to mark the ending of Mercy Ministry in the parish. Mercy presence began in St. Anthony’s Parish in 1976, and 37 years of Mercy ministry came to an end as, the last two Sisters retired to the Convent in Lurgan.
The Mass was inspiring but poignant, as Bishop McAreavey spoke about the coming of the Sisters to St. Anthony’s, as the then new city, Craigavon, was established and the parish of St. Anthony’s developed. The Sisters have, from the beginning, been closely associated with the Church in the parish, being involved in parish visitation, adult religious education, sacramental preparation, liturgical planning, and support of the clergy. The church was packed for the occasion, and although many parishioners expressed their sadness at the departure of the Sisters, the latter are very aware of the faith and skills of many of the parishioners, and confident that the parish is strong and will continue to thrive after the departure of the Sisters. Although there will no longer be a Mercy ministry in St. Anthony’s, the Sisters of Mercy will continue to live in the parish, though travelling to ministry elsewhere.
St. Michael’s Grammar School is one of a small number of grammar schools in the trusteeship of the Sisters of Mercy, and although the Sisters no longer teach in the school, they are represented on the Board of Governors.
Springwell Family Centre, Lurgan was established by the Sisters of Mercy, together with two local women in February 1992 and became a limited company and registered charity the following year. The centre was founded on the Mercy values of respect, welcome, hospitality and integrity and provided holistic support to families, particularly those that were vulnerable.
Springwell Centre sought to provide a warm welcome for all visitors, delivered through a wide range of services – parenting support, capacity building, health education, advice, peer support groups and counselling/psychotherapy including family therapy, children’s therapy and relationship counselling. The Centre began with two volunteer staff – a Mercy Sister and one local woman – supporting five mothers, and grew steadily to employ seven staff and support over 400 families per year. Serving the disadvantaged meant that funding was always a struggle, but as the Centre’s reputation grew, it attracted a number of grants from charitable trusts and statutory funding sources. However, when the economic recession took hold in the UK and Ireland, all these funding sources shrank and the Centre struggled through 2012 – 2013 to remain solvent. It was a sad day for the Board of Directors when in October 2013, they took the very difficult decision to close. The Centre ceased operation on 19th December 2013.
Convent of Mercy, Bessbrook
The Convent of Mercy Bessbrook was established as a foundation from Newry in 1889. In 1989 Avila Nursing Home, a purpose-built care facility, now under the auspices of Mercy Care, was built. It can accommodate 36 patients.
Today the Sisters are involved in Visitation of the elderly and sick of the parish. They are also involved in Reading Recovery (a programme designed to help children obtain a proficient degree of literacy). One Sister provides Family Therapy & Supervision in Lurgan; in Cuan Mhuire, (a refuge for those suffering from addictions) and as a Parish Sister in the parish of Lower Killeavy.
The Orchard County
(Used with the permission of Cottage Publications the home of beautiful Irish books)
In Co Armagh, as throughout the Congregation, Sisters are growing in awareness of the interconnectedness of all of life. One Sister served for some time as a member of the Province’s Earth Wisdom Group, and through the programme, Be The Change, continues to promote lifestyles that are sustainable and respectful of the web of life.