Archived News Item

December edition of LISTEN out now

Editorial from LISTEN, December 2006


There is something eucharistic about anniversaries. They offer us a sort of “˜rhythm-of-life’ opportunity to recall and celebrate past events, as we derive from them new vitality for the present and hope for the future. Usually, anniversaries of significance, especially when marked in friendship or solidarity with others, arouse strong feelings – love, pride, immense gratitude to God and to the ones who are remembered. Sometimes they have the power, almost sacramental, to be deeply transforming of hearts and minds.


I was thinking along these lines as I reflected on the several distinctive anniversaries which we in the communion of Sisters of Mercy have celebrated this year, 2006: the founding of our Order by Catherine McAuley, one-hundred and seventy-five years ago; the arrival of the first Sisters of Mercy in Australia, one-hundred and sixty years ago; the commencement of our mission in Papua New Guinea fifty years ago; and the formation of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia, twenty-five years ago. 


Each of these anniversaries represents a unique contribution to our sacred “˜Mercy story’, our own salvation history, which we are co-creating with our wise and provident God. Each one urges us to remember and celebrate God’s initiative in calling women of a particular time and place, and their brave, faithful response. It tells us again how these women were entrusted with Works of Mercy among God’s people, and with the privilege of nurturing among themselves the graces and gifts of sisterhood. And it moves us today to give heartfelt thanks that we similarly are called, entrusted and privileged.


LISTEN gives testimony that the past is always present, in this eucharistic sense, through its various features to mark the anniversary of our mission in Papua New Guinea: the evocative cover; Teresa Flaherty’s second article in which she sensitively weaves the motif of the bilum to hold the story of the last twenty-five years; Sean O’Donohue’s paper about the Jubilee project through which the sisters are making intervention into some of the worst social problems, written from his perspective as a worker with Australian Volunteers International; Margaret Roni’s reflection on her demanding health care ministry in the East Sepik Province; and the simple, heart-cheering “˜mercy’ story behind the sand painting of Catherine McAuley.


The anniversary of the Institute is acknowledged here by an article based on some reminiscences of Father James Esler SM who was the canon lawyer working closely with the sisters as they prepared to seek approval from Rome for the new entity. In this time of reconfiguring, the question of whether or not the formation of the Institute in 1981 was understood to be the ultimate structure for Sisters of Mercy in Australia and its foundations is pertinent.


Another eucharistic character of anniversaries is that, having given us a “˜soul charge’, they “˜send us back’, as it were, to the day by day realities, the locus of real transformation. Perhaps! Readers might find this in the other contributions to LISTEN: Christine Smith’s insight into ministry, honed with honesty through her years in Wilcannia; thoughts about the Institute’s reconfiguring from Duyen Nguyen, Victoria Cobb and Maria Lawton; Deirdre Murphy’s apparently simple but profoundly moving experiences along her pilgrim way; and in poetic style, Judith Carney’s musing about the dynamic impulse of the Spirit, and Gabrielle Travers’ reflection about the ever-new life of Mercy. Perhaps one of the most compelling “˜day-by-day’ realities for LISTEN readers is the way we experience religious life. In that regard Doris Gottemoeller, in her two papers, offers a scholarly appraisal of dominant trends and suggests some possibilities for the future.


I named above a few deep feelings which anniversaries can evoke. Another such feeling is a desire for reconciliation. Surely this too is eucharistic, and more so, when it leads to practical, effective justice. Linda Burney’s paper, first presented to mark the forty years since Vincent Lingiari led his people in bold action towards obtaining land rights for Aboriginal Peoples, is a spirited, in-spirited challenge to all with a heart to work for lasting reconciliation among all Australians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous.


Once again, I want to thank warmly and sincerely all who have contributed to this edition of LISTEN – those who have written for it and Kathy Fuller and Stephanie Thomas who have ensured its timely and professional production.


Finally, a thought or two about another anniversary – the incarnation of our God. With the increasing plethora of populist distraction, it is difficult for many of us to keep a sharp focus on the meaning of this event and to allow ourselves to be a little transformed by it.


So, for what should we pray this Christmas?

The gift to gaze steadily on God’s mystery.

The gift to enjoy the wild wonder of God-among-us.

The gift of peace, to share with hearts and places ripped by discord.

The gift of tumbling, drenching, soaking rain.


May each of us receive these gifts in abundance.




Caroline Ryan RSM (Editor)


Photo: (circa 1958) of a mother from Wewak, PNG carrying her baby in a bilum with Mary Wildie RSM (Sister Mary Felix) of Rockhampton Congregation looking on.


“The bilum… is considered a feminine symbol used for the most precious and essential things a woman carries – first, and above all, for her baby, then for garden food, or firewood. It is a symbol of her enduring love and care for her family.”

Archived News Item

December edition of LISTEN out now

The December 2007 edition of LISTEN, the journal of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia, is out now. To give readers an overview of what’s covered in this edition, we are publishing Sister Caroline Ryan’s editorial.

As I write this editorial, Australians are within days of determining who will govern us, at least for the next three years. Given the long and tenacious hold of the present government and the a-rational force of that glib mantra “if it’s working why change it?” chances are that electors will return the ruling party. On the other hand, if the nation’s sharpest focus is on what can really strengthen and mature the Commonwealth of Australia, perhaps there will be a change.

That is a telling word – “commonwealth” – with its rich and lovely connotations for Australians of inclusiveness, reciprocity, equity of access to the bounty which is ours or, as we like to say, “a fair go for all”. And certainly, as a sovereign nation we enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace denied to countless people around the globe. Our common wealth is abundant indeed.

However, it seems to me that over the past several years, our common wealth has become somewhat impoverished. Not economically, it could be suggested, although it is true that many Australians have been strained by an increasingly utilitarian economic system. The impoverishment I mean is to do with the heart of our country. It relates to a diminishment of those deep, identity-forming values which dignify a people with its own humanity, while enlivening it to dignify the humanity of others.

The deep-heart values I have in mind are compassion, justice, truth and truth-telling, trust, and an ethic of life which respects differences among people, offers preferential care to the most vulnerable ones, and protects our fragile earth. Then there is humility. Humility is important because it enables cheerful obedience to the Creator who is always more compassionate, more just, more truth-filled, more trustworthy and wiser than we are.

We Sisters of Mercy know something about these values. We say they come from the heart of our God of Mercy. We see them enfleshed in Jesus. We understand how they animated Catherine McAuley and, as it were, ‘took over’ her whole life. And, with God’s grace, we profess to want to live them consistently in our own lives.

Of course these deep-heart values are not ours exclusively. In Australia, and all over the earth, people of other faith traditions, and none, as well as good leaders – religious and political, try to live them consistently in their lives too. Their language and imagery about them and their ways of working for them, are naturally different from ours, but their commitment is as heartfelt and their endeavours as earnest. We know them by their fruits. Just as we hope that they, and others, know us.

The fourteen articles in this issue of LISTEN tell us much more about these deep-heart values. From the writers’ various perspectives – local, national, global, planetary – we can reflect again on their power to ennoble human lives, to transform societies, and to safeguard our planet’s delicate ecology. This is a compelling body of content, informed and enriched as it is by Sacred Scripture, experiences of life and ministry and fine scholarship. Readers will note too that it is representative of a number of contexts – education, media, spirituality, advocacy, and religious life.

I am grateful to all for their contributions: Margery Jackman for her incisive Gospel words spoken to participants in the recent Conference of the Australasian Mercy Secondary School Association; Deirdre Mullan, our familiar voice at the United Nations – once again stimulating us to action in the name of God’s Mercy; Klaus Neumann for his critique of an ironically pragmatic notion of compassion; Carol Rittner, another friend from Mercy Global Concern, for her salutary offering of a spirituality for Christians whose hearts remain disturbed by the cause and atrocity of the Shoah; Margaret Hinchey for teaching us that truly to know the God of our scriptures, is to identify, confront and try to transform socio-political structures and policies which impose poverty upon vulnerable people; Carmel Heagerty for her challenging overview of the four areas of concern chosen by the last Chapter for ongoing attention throughout our Institute (Indigenous Concerns, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Women and Poverty, Eco-justice); Louise Campbell and Larissa Behrendt, Indigenous women whose experiences and professionalism have augmented the work of the Special Issues Committees, established as part of the Institute’s Justice Network to address those aforementioned areas; Claudette Cusack, Anne Foale and Nguyen Thi My Duyen for their tough but heart-warming report from the notorious Baxter Detention Centre; Mary Quinn for her brief ‘Good Samaritan’ story about befriending a Zimbabwean refugee in need of a holiday from bureaucratic complexities; Anne Ryan, Angela Reed, Leonie Crotty and Miriam Grech for their collaborative piece through which they help readers to recognise some of the ugly causes and results of poverty with its tragic impact on women and children; Patricia Powell, Margie Abbot, Mary Dennett and Mary Tinney for reminding us about how we can honour Earth’s rights and essential goodness.

With women religious as the intended recipients of her paper, Mary Dacey encourages a raising of minds and hearts towards three areas where she believes new integrity for religious life is to be found. These are global spirituality, dialogue with difference – religious, cultural, ideological, ecclesial, and so on, and those who are poor. These themes resonate strongly throughout LISTEN’S pages.

The timely exposition of ‘pilgrimage’, written by Elizabeth Julian with the forthcoming World Youth Day in mind, also fits well with this LISTEN as she distinguishes between the deep-heart values of the pilgrim and the self-serving motivation of the tourist. Perhaps it could be helpful to circulate this among the throngs of youth who will be arriving in Sydney for a few brief, hectic days in mid 2008.

Finally, there is a reflection I wrote during the steamy Sydney days of our 1999 Institute Chapter. Having just retrieved it from a lost file, I wonder if it is a bit relevant for now.

So again, thanks to all contributors. Thanks too to Stephanie Thomas for all she does so professionally to prepare the material for publication, and to Kathy Fuller for her competent and enthusiastic administrative support.

As Christmas approaches, may all friends of LISTEN receive a generous share in those deep-heart values – gifts which only our God of Mercy can give.


Caroline Ryan RSM / EDITOR

PLEASE NOTE: If you would like to subscribe to LISTEN, the Institute’s theological journal, published twice yearly ($25 per annum), find out more here. Alternatively, a limited number of single copies are available for purchase from the Institute Office. Contact Kathy Fuller on Phone: (02) 9564 1911 or Email:

COVER PHOTOGRAPH: Heart on Fire by Christopher Potter. Christopher says, “In a world of darkness the true light shines from the heart of the believers.” The photo appears on the Stock.XCHNG website.

Archived News Item

December edition of LISTEN out now

The December 2008 edition of LISTEN, the journal of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia, is out now. To give readers an overview of what’s covered in this edition, read Sister Caroline Ryan’s editorial.

It is reasonable to claim that leadership is a complex, multi-faceted notion. Certainly it commands abundant attention from theorists and practitioners alike. In that regard, if you enjoy trivia, you might be interested to know, just for starters, that Google, the vast–ranging search engine, can find 9,310,000 entries for ‘beliefs about leadership’ and 29, 500,000 for ‘challenges of leadership’.

This issue of LISTEN also offers an exploration of leadership, obviously not in the boundless way of Google, but with an easy, instructive coherence meaningful for both religious life and the wider community. In fact, from a Gospel perspective, it seems that the sharpest insights of all the contributions here tell us what is good, even best, for those charged with a ministry of leadership, as well as highlighting some essential components of a robust, ‘spirituality of leadership’.

Through the respective addresses of Maureen McGuirk and Faith Jones, we see in two of Australia’s founding Sisters of Mercy, qualities that give us a dynamic patrimony (matrimony?) of Mercy leadership. First among these qualities is sustained trust in the bounty of Providence. Others include conviction of purpose, commitment to the good of the whole, a balanced mix of “the wise serpent and the simple dove”, faith to risk the unknown, and ability to recognise the acumen of others, with detachment to defer to their advice.

In telling her story about establishing an adult education ministry in the refreshing days following Vatican II, Mary Berry reminds us that, in their obedience to the “signs of the times”, leaders can find in themselves the talent for daring initiatives, and a determining sense of meaning strengthened through careful response to others’ needs. Mary also affirms that, just as over 30 years ago, religious today have an important role, perhaps increasingly urgent, in enabling other men and women to assume their rightful ministries of leadership within the Church.

Veronica Lawson’s focus is on Jesus, the most integrated and altruistic of leaders. What her reflection points to is Jesus’ own inner authority. This is so mature that he is inherently free from forces of seduction and fear. He can identify fulsome praise for the manipulative trick it is, as he can recognise attempts at ‘power-over’ for the bullying tactics they are. We see him here responding with truth and courtesy to his enemies, and we know that his belief in himself and his mission remain undiminished. Then, in her poem, By This Shall They Know, Anne Drover offers us another meditation on Jesus the leader as he personifies that radical love of servant leadership.

With our Institute’s reconfiguring in mind, Mary Wickham muses about some of its challenges in light of the Book of Ruth. If we think of Ruth as one of the key leaders in our salvation history, we learn from her some qualities of soul that nurture life-enhancing change: attentiveness to an ever-revealing God, fidelity to her deepest values, practical wisdom, courage to relinquish what has been in order to embrace the ‘new’ – new culture, new friendships, new ways of loving. In a sense, for Sisters of Mercy these days, Ruth herself could be a symbol of reconfiguring, indeed a compelling one because, ultimately, her new generativity creates the line from which, we know well, Jesus is born.

Earlier this year, David Ranson led the Sisters of Mercy of New Zealand in a consideration of spiritual leadership. He suggests that, in essence, this kind of leadership has three strengths: the quality of grief, which is the sensitivity that allows people to own their pain, and through it, to find something new and beautiful; the quality of hope, which, even in desperate situations, can recognise and celebrate reasons to delight in life; and the quality of mercy, which is passionate, redemptive womb-love, like “the sympathy of God”.

In the context of religious life, it is probably true to say that most men and women who have served in leadership, with all its privilege and burden, would agree with Ray Dlugos’ responses to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). That is to say, as well as naming some of the tough realities confronting religious leaders today, Ray notes for them the foundational importance of prayer, as well as honest self-appraisal, resilience, courage and affection in truth-telling, and sure respect for the uniqueness of religious life. He also makes a few pertinent comments about leadership as a form of martyrdom.

From her recent doctoral studies, Megan Brock identifies a problematic issue for a cohort of religious women who are frustrated by the fact that, because they are among the youngest members of their congregations, they are not accorded the ‘rights’ associated with middle age. This in itself presents a few challenges to good leaders: fostering attitudes and practices which are psychologically healthy for every individual and for the whole group, confirming the inherent potential of all stages of human development, and developing the sort of group culture which genuinely welcomes the formative influences of later generations.

Writing as a secular journalist in touch with diverse areas of human industry, Cynthia Banham identifies three significant characteristics of effective leaders. First, not dependent on title or status, they are inspirational people because their actions are consistent with their beliefs and values. Second, they recognise and relate to others as equals, genuinely regarding them as they themselves want to be regarded. Third, they have moral courage to speak hard truths and to make hard decisions. Secular journalism perhaps, but implicitly Gospel (no dichotomy intended!).

As members of The Loyola Institute in Sydney, Deirdre Duncan and Martin Scroope explicate the character of a leadership which thrives on the vibrant, transformative values of Ignatian spirituality: loving contemplation of God, desire to be at one with God and God’s ways, gratitude for the beautiful life of all creation, gracious attentiveness to ‘the other’, intelligent appreciation of place and culture, readiness for the discipline of true discernment, and so on.

Finally, in her poem Come Scorn… Come Stones Marea Roberts calls for prophets, women with enough faith and audacity to lead like our mothers in faith who, in ways right for their own time and place, denounced oppression and proclaimed justice.

So again, as you engage with these several variations on the theme of leadership, I would like to acknowledge everyone who has contributed to this LISTEN. Warm gratitude to all.

And now, as Christmas approaches, for what should we pray?

Incarnate God, we pray for our leaders, and for ourselves whom they lead. Grace us all with your humility so that together, for the sake of your world, we can become holy people, alive in your image. Amen


Caroline Ryan RSM / EDITOR

PLEASE NOTE: If you would like to subscribe to LISTEN, the Institute’s theological journal, published twice yearly ($25 per annum), find out more here.

Alternatively, a limited number of single copies are available for purchase from the Mercy National Centre. Contact Kathy Fuller on Phone: (02) 9564 1911 or Email: