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Called to ‘breathe Mercy’

Sisters Joyce Vella, Ailsa Mackinnon (Congregation Leader) and Maria Zhao
Sisters Joyce Vella, Ailsa Mackinnon (Congregation Leader) and Maria Zhao.
‘Breathe Mercy’ was the underlying inspirational theme that permeated the spirit of the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta as 58 sisters gathered as delegates on 29 July to begin the first phase of their 10th General Chapter in the beautiful setting of St Joseph’s Centre for Reflective Living, Baulkham Hills.

Every sister in the Congregation had been preparing for this time of formal gathering, praying that the Holy Spirit would fill their “… hearts with a passion to breathe Mercy in a world which hungers for justice and peace.”

Accompanying the delegates was a newly received novice, Sr Katrina Zhang, who, only a week before, had been received as a candidate for novitiate in a joy-filled Rite of Reception into Religious Life.

The ceremony had particular significance as it was held in the 121-year-old founding house of the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, a place known historically and affectionately as the ‘Mother House’ of the Parramatta Congregation.

Katrina’s first weeks began at an exciting and challenging time for the Congregation as she was to engage in a once-in-six-years opportunity to gain new insights into the life and mission of the Sisters of Mercy and to build deeper relationships with many of the sisters.

The three-and-a-half days of this first phase of Chapter commenced with a warm welcome and gentle prayer followed by an address by Sr Ailsa Mackinnon RSM, Congregation Leader, who formally opened the Chapter proceedings.

In her address, Ailsa invited the sisters “… to engage in this opportunity to reclaim the inspiration of the life of Catherine McAuley, the Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy (in Dublin in 1831) and to reconnect with her passion for care of the poor and vulnerable in society.”

Thus the initial scene was set for the days to follow, drawing on the desire and enthusiasm of the delegates to touch into ‘the deeper things’ of their lives. All were aware of the powerful prayerful support and ‘presence-in-spirit’ of those sisters and colleagues in Mercy who were unable to be present.

'Mercy at the heart of Institute'

Sr Katrina Zhang
Sr Katrina Zhang.
On the morning of the first full day of Chapter, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP celebrated the opening Mass, invoking the Holy Spirit to be the spark of inspiration for the sisters’ reflections, discussions and decision-making as they deliberated on their lives and mission as Sisters of Mercy.

Bishop Anthony’s words were rich in childhood memories and insights into Mercy religious life, as he beckoned the sisters into a deeper attentiveness to their call as Sisters of Mercy “…‘ Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Chapters are times for allowing living water to flow anew from the heart of a congregation. Mercy is the heart of your Institute.” 

And so the Chapter began in earnest …

The delegates then became reflectively and actively engaged in conversation and direction setting for the next six years, guided expertly by Sr Anne Lane PBVM, a Presentation Sister.

The session which followed and formed the ‘matters’ for reflection and discussion arose out of the work of many of the sisters who, over the past six months or more, had been gathering in ‘Interest Groups’ to reflect, pray and discuss vital aspects of their lives as Sisters of Mercy.

The fruits of their meetings provided impetus for discussion and ‘assent’ on matters including, amongst others, ministerial religious life, reflections on ‘Jesus Today’ by Albert Nolan OP, the fourth vow of Service, especially incorporating the suffering earth, Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers and refugees, the spirituality of ageing, the unique relationship of humanity to the cosmos, and vocations in multicultural Australia.

Each group used dynamic, interactive processes which engaged the delegates in their direction-setting and decision-making.

Amidst all of these ‘deeper things of their lives’ the delegates were enfolded in beautiful prayer rituals which replenished spirits and renewed enthusiasm and energy as the days progressed towards the conclusion of this first phase of Chapter and entry into the next three months of preparation for the second phase in November.

The sisters and colleagues continue to pray that decisions concerning new leadership for the next six years and their participation in the Mercy mission will always be sparked by a “… passion to breathe Mercy in a world which hungers for justice and peace.”


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