Launch of the History of the Institute
Approximately 100 Sisters of Mercy and friends gathered at St. Joseph’s Spirituality Centre, Baulkham Hills on the evening of Sunday December 11 to celebrate the launch of "The Land that I will show you: History of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia 1981- 2011", written by Dr. Berenice M. Kerr rsm.
Institute Vice-President, Caroline Ryan rsm hosted the evening. The Institute President, Sr. Nerida Tinkler, welcomed Berenice and invited Dorothy Campion rsm, the first President of the Institute, to launch the history. Sr. Dorothy paid tribute to Sr. Berenice for her scholarship and noted the significance of launching this important publication on the eve of the commencement of First chapter of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
In her response Sr. Berenice paid tribute to the many Mercy women with whom she had spoken during her research and all those whose stories have shaped and given life to the Institute over the past 30 years.
Address given by Dorothy Campion rsm to Launch " The Land That I Will Show You", Sunday, December 11, 2011
It is with pleasure that I take this opportunity to present to you " The Land That I Will Show You", a new book by Dr Berenice Kerr. As the title suggests," The Land That I Will Show You" is the story of a journey taken in faith, like Abraham’s – of travellers unclear as to the paths this journey will follow, but united in purpose and confident in the One who guides the way.
Before making any other comments I must first of all congratulate Berenice on having taken this initiative at such an opportune moment in our history, and in having produced this book which literally marks the end of one chapter of our story and the beginning of another.
Berenice notes, in the introduction, that every author is subject to her own biases and her own experience, as she researches and as she writes, and suggests that the reader is subject to the same influences. I was very much aware of that as I read. For me the reading experience was a very mixed one. It evoked a host of memories of events that many of us have lived through – events that have marked the ‘days of our lives’. So I guess we are blessed at this time to be given an opportunity to reflect on it all with the help of a long range (and perhaps more objective) point of view.
I was impressed by the painstaking attention to detail that Berenice demonstrates. her research into the past, her recent interviews with a wide variety of people whose experience was first-hand, her interest and involvement in what has been unfolding in the last few years and her time spent on reflecting on the meaning and implications of it all must have devoured hours of her time, not to mention the actual task of writing and publishing which have brought this book to life. Thank you, Berenice for that. The end result is worthy of the effort that has gone into i
The first two chapters revisit our early history – Catherine’s story and the Australian foundations and amalgamations, and then the gradual movement towards the unification of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia, which resulted in the Institute as we have known it. This movement commenced in 1952 in response to the call of Pope Pius XII for an updating and renewal for women religious worldwide. This is a book about structures, but also about people. Here are listed the movers and shakers of that time – strong and purposeful women, whose names have become enshrined in our Mercy folklore. It is good to be reminded that they too went through all the hopes and doubts and fears that beset any move from a time honoured past to an uncertain future. They made the decisions they had to make at that time, and the events that they lived through are the beginning of the road we are now walking.
Berenice describes the Union and Federation and the National Conference and what they achieved despite the limitations that were inherent in their structures. She pays tribute to the many women who helped to steer us through those years – women like Mother Philomena, Sister Maria Joseph Carr, Valda Ward, Patricia Pak Poy – and the canonists who assisted and encouraged us with great generosity and patient listening – especially Frs. Hogan, Connolly, Esler and King. I think that Berenice has captured well the continuity of the movement begun back there in 1952 and the ongoing quest for a way of expressing publicly the unity of mind and spirit which was already a reality. She acknowledges the tension that has always existed among us between claims of local autonomy and those of centralisation. It is a healthy tension which persists even to this day and will doubtless remain a challenge in the governance of the new Institute.
The bulk of the book deals comprehensively with the establishment and work of the Institute, both at home and abroad. Readers who are only minimally aware of the extent and variety of projects undertaken by the Institute will find these pages very informative reading. I was reminded, as I read, of how the services which the Institute offered were always in response to the expressed needs of the local people or the local church. On-going evaluation has been a feature of these initiatives. Some of them flourished for a while and were disbanded when they were no longer needed or became untenable. Others grew and changed as circumstances changed around them. Others again took firm root and have gone from strength to strength. There is no way anyone could list all the people involved but Berenice has made a good attempt to give credit where it is due.
Given the tremendous changes and challenges of the last thirty years, little imagination is needed to realise, as Berenice shows, that our structures of governance have been stretched to the limit and something new is required. She quotes Fr. Jim Esler as saying: “This (the decision to form the Institute in 1981) was a modest beginning … I personally never thought it was the last thing the Sisters of Mercy would do. But it was all they could do at the time.”
Those words seem to echo the advice of Archbishop Mayer in Rome in 1981: “Keep it flexible and let it grow.” The Institute is a living organism and Berenice has shown evidence of how it has lived and grown and reached maturity. It is now moving into another “planting and watering” time and we hope and pray that “God will give the increase”.
The final chapter deals with the consultation process leading to the decision to proceed with a new Institute model, one canonical congregation. Berenice has described in detail the process that was used to bring us to the present moment, when we stand on the threshold of the formal establishment of the new Institute. While we rejoice that so much has been achieved, it remains a painful reality that over a quarter of our sisters will remain outside the new Institute, and that many of those who are recorded in these pages as having been the “founding mothers” of the old Institute will not even be members of the new one. Berenice writes: “Coming to terms with the fact that not all congregations would join the new entity has not been easy for sisters and the pain experienced by many has dimmed the joy of embarking on this new venture.”
I am taking the risk of suggesting that the story of those who did not join the new entity needs to be told also, to round out the picture for the sake of those who come after us and wonder “why?”. In time to come, Jim Esler’s words will probably be said of us too: “It was all they could manage at the time”.
On a happier note, the part of the book which excited me most was the section on Papua New Guinea. Our “youngest” member exhibits all the hope and vitality that has characterised our own Australian experience at different in our story. I personally treasure my involvement with the growth of the Papua New Guinea Congregation of Mercy Sisters and I will conclude with the words of their most recent Mission Statement which rings with a clarity that is refreshing and which calls us to be renewed in the Spirit and to take up the challenges of this 21st century: “We, Sisters of Mercy of PNG, witness to Mercy that does Gospel Justice. We pledge ourselves to live this personally, communally, and in ministry. We will take and support public action against oppression and violence. We accept the risk this stand will bring.”
And now, having said all that, it is with great pleasure that I commend to you "The Land That I Will Show You" and invite you to acclaim Berenice, and the many people who assisted her, for having given us the ongoing story of this group of women called Sisters of Mercy.