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Musings of a Social Mystic

L to R: June Rohan RSM, Mai Nguyen-Doan RSM and Nola Morrissy RSM at the 5th Australian Catherine McAuley Symposium, Melbourne 2019.


Mai Nguyen-Doan RSM recently attended the 5th Australian Catherine McAuley Symposium at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Melbourne. Mai has shares her thoughts and musings about the wonderful presentation and journey that Mary Pat Garvin RSM took the group through. She also reflects on her personal journey as a Sister of Mercy and the renewed hope and encouragement she was given during the Symposium. 

Before I share some reflections about the term Social Mystic, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Mary Pat Garvin RSM for her presentation last month at the 5th Australian Catherine McAuley Symposium at the Academy of Mary Immaculate, Melbourne. Thank you, Mary Pat, for taking us to a different level of seeing and understanding Catherine McAuley through the lens of the Social Mystic.  Indeed, you gave us a surprising title!  I did not know what to expect before attending the session, but what I gained was delightful and very encouraging.  This metaphor is truly something new to learn about and to see myself, my relationship with God and with the world around me in these terms.


Before I joined the Sisters of Mercy 10 years ago, I worked as a Social Worker and I now continue this ministry in the Social Work Department of the Mercy Hospital for Women in Heidelberg.  My specific area is in Gynaecological Oncology and Maternity when needed.  Here I visit women to assess their needs and to offer social work services in their time of need.  In general, we identify their complex social needs including family violence, homelessness, drug and alcohol issues, mental illness, housing, accommodation and critical health issues with cancer treatments.


As I reflect on my experience each day, I see it is a mixture of privilege and daunting challenges, especially as I find myself to be a minority “young” religious in one of our own Mercy ministry organisations.



It is so encouraging and energising to know and hear the appreciation and satisfaction of our patients who have been cared for in a health setting of one of our Mercy Health ministries.  I am also so privileged to hear from staff, who used to work with so many of our sisters at the hospital, that they really miss and cherish the time they worked with the sisters.  Sisters, YOU must have been truly Social Mystics through your presence and care among patients and staff to leave such deep footprints in their hearts!!!  Now in some ways you have made it so ‘difficult’ for me to follow!!!


Daunting challenges

So often I am asked by people I meet at the hospital why I have chosen to be a Sister of Mercy.  For many, it is no longer seen as a norm to be a religious!  Mary Pat’s presentation on Catherine as the Social Mystic was very helpful, as it clarified my answers to these questions still more. I find myself  thinking  and reflecting more deeply on Catherine’s deep understanding of Mercy and her courageous example and life giving service as she reached out to those in need with such courage and tenderness.


It is disturbing to note that the needs of the poor and lonely continue to be with us at every turn today – needs which are complex and complicated as we move in a society which is necessarily bounded by many policies, procedures and regulations.  So often these are so time-consuming, and I struggle to find the balance between my professional compliance with these matters and my personal service to those in need.


As I seek to find a pathway through this dilemma, the concept of Catherine as a Social Mystic offers me renewed hope and encouragement.  She really was so wise and prudent to remind us that “… if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” (1)


Mindful of such advice and with thanks to those who continue to show interest and support in my ministry, I move forward in Mercy, with the hope that I will reach out further and more effectively to people when they are in need as I continue to explore the way of a social mystic.


  1. Sister Mary Carmel Bourke RSM, A Woman Sings of Mercy: Reflections on the Life and Spirit of Mother Catherine McAuley Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy (Sydney: E. J. Dwyer Australia, 1987), 20.


Messages to: Mai Nguyen-Doan RSM