Archived News Item

New book traces story of Mercy sisters in PNG

A new book which traces the involvement of the Sisters of Mercy in Papua New Guinea since their arrival in 1956 until 2006, was launched recently in Rockhampton. Written by Adelaide Sister of Mercy Tess Flaherty, Crossings in Mercy: The Story of the Sisters of Mercy Papua New Guinea 1956-2006, was launched by Institute President Sister Nerida Tinkler. The text of Nerida’s address and details about how the book can be purchased follow.

Sister Nerida Tinkler’s address at the launch of Crossings In Mercy – The Story of the Sisters of Mercy of Papua New Guinea, 1956-2006, by Teresa Flaherty RSM

It gives me much pleasure to launch this book written by Teresa (Tess) Flaherty RSM. It is, I believe, highly significant that it be launched tonight in a gathering with leaders from the region of Papua New Guinea and every congregation in our Mercy Institute, as well as Tess’s three sisters and representatives of the Rockhampton Congregation including some who were ‘on mission’ in PNG.

This book Crossings in Mercy – The Story of the Sisters of Mercy of Papua New Guinea, 1956-2006 is a detailed and thoroughly and professionally researched history written in such a style as to engage the reader from page one.

Tess highlights two themes of mission in relating the 50-year history of the Sisters of Mercy in PNG. These are CROSSINGS and the CROSS. Further, she likens the themes to the experience of our Mercy Foundress, Catherine McAuley. I quote:

“Catherine made many crossings as she responded to the call of the Spirit in the cries of the poor… Strengthened by the Cross of Jesus, she and the early sisters went forward or stayed back, their hearts centred on God.” (p. iii)

Throughout the ten chapters of the book, which are well illustrated with maps and a variety of most interesting photos, the reader is led through the story of many crossings. Beginning with the crossing of the ocean from Ireland to Australia, Tess then relates the story of the crossing of the first four Sisters of Mercy from Australia into the Melanesian culture of PNG in 1956. From this first foundation, which was to the highlands at Goroka, we enter into the fascinating journey of numerous other crossings spanning the 50 years to 2006. In 1957, another foundation was made from Australia, this one into the coastal diocese of Wewak and this was followed by other foundations in subsequent years directly from Australia. Over the years, much criss-crossing occurred, into and from the original foundations to neighbouring areas, and indeed, to many outreach villages, each with its unique history and stories to tell and I quote “with joys and sorrows mingled”. If I attempted to enumerate all the foundations we would be here all night, but I can assure you of a great read!

For me, the whole book has its most poignant impact in being a recorded story of a collective journey in faith, indeed a gospel! The faith of the Papua New Guinean people is so richly captured in the following quote:

“There is one story, says Mariska Kua, … told me by my father. When he was a toddler, people kept safely within their own boundaries yet one day the whole village was amazed to see a stranger making his way freely into their enclosure. He was of normal appearance but there was something about his simple and gentle approach that stopped them from confronting and killing him. He stayed at my grandfather’s house and the people called him Mangruai, which means ‘We have to see him’, because everybody was drawn to him. My grandfather would carry my father to the food gardens, where the adults spent their day working. When they needed a break, they sat and drank water and ate cooked vegetables from a bamboo. While he was here, Mangruai accompanied the people, and they noticed the bamboo container he touched never got empty, and there was enough food and drink for everybody. The children wanted to be close to him. Whenever it rained heavily as they returned home, he was able to stop the rain until everyone got back safely. During a tribal fight he stepped out into the middle to stop the fight and was unharmed. While he remained among them there was peace. But one day he told them all he had to move on. They noticed he had come from the Madang direction and was headed further into the highlands towards Mt Hagen. Later when the missionaries came to Simbu my people recognised this man as the Jesus they spoke of in the Gospel.” (p. v)

This is the people who live in the ‘land of the unexpected’ and who welcomed the Sisters of Mercy into their midst! The ministries undertaken within the fields of education, health care, social welfare, spiritual and pastoral work, visitation and development projects etc. etc., and the mercy vocation embraced by national women during the recorded 50 years truly are testimonies of faith. No challenge seemed beyond the bounds of faith of the sisters and lay missionaries, supported as they were, by the Divine Word Communities, and women and men of other orders and the local Church.

In our context today, when we are exploring the possibilities of reconfiguring our Institute, for inspiration we need only to read the story of the mercy women in PNG. For the sake of mission, they restructured and reconfigured seemingly without counting the cost to become one national entity of the Sisters of Mercy of Papua New Guinea in 1981, just pre-dating the birth of our Institute. We rejoice also in their further development in becoming an autonomous region of our Institute in 2006.

Finally, I would like to suggest that in writing this book, the life of each of the 207 Sisters of Mercy and the associate lay missionaries who have lived and ministered in PNG, has been presented by Tess with a most notable gentleness, honesty and respect.

For this, I feel, and I am confident in saying on behalf of us all, we feel a deep appreciation:

  • to each person named in the book for having entrusted her sacred story;
  • to the Sisters of Mercy of PNG, former leaders Maura O’Shaughnessy and Helen O’Brien who encouraged Tess to write this history of PNG, Mariska Kua and her Council who commissioned the writing of this history;
  • to Petronia Gawi, current leader in PNG and her Council for their ongoing support;
  • and Tess, for all you have given so graciously, expertly and generously to all who read Crossings in Mercy – The Story of the Sisters of Mercy of Papua New Guinea, 1956-2006.

Tess, we congratulate you, thank you and salute you!

Nerida Tinkler RSM
President, Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia
Institute Plenary Council Meeting, Emu Park, April 17, 2008

Crossings In Mercy, the newly launched history of the Sisters of Mercy, Papua New Guinea, can be purchased for $55.00 plus postage costs. To order, contact the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia, 1 Thomas Street, Lewisham NSW, 2049 or ring (02) 9564 1911. Invoices will be sent with delivery.