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Perspectives on Reconfiguring in Australia

In 2004 the Fifth Institute Chapter of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia and Papua New Guinea called us to embark on the journey of Reconfiguring. The Chapter Statement encouraged us as follows:

The Chapter’s enthusiastic affirmation of the call to each sister to engage in the process of reconfiguring reflects our recognition that

  • there is an urgent need to respond to the world-wide movement of God’s Spirit towards reconciling and embracing difference, replacing fear with hope, suspicion with trust, violence with peace;
  • we are becoming conscious that we are an organic part of an unfolding universe;
  • we must charge our lives with a theology of communion and mission.

While I was at this Fifth Chapter I had an understanding that all present wanted to do this together in the most united way as possible. We seemed to cherish the idea that together we could overcome some of the obstacles that our separate infrastructures and the structures of the Institute itself pose to the pooling of resources for the mission; to offering a clear model of communio to our disparate world which coming more closely together might achieve; to providing a recognizable public voice on matters that affect those people on the margins and the very life of the universe.

This challenge seems to me to call all of us to become involved in imagining a new present and future; to a conversion that implies a radical openness on the part of every sister in the Institute.

I believe the Leadership Team elected at the Fifth Chapter then began the task to which they had been called – that of finding ways we could “journey together” in our search for a significant and observable communio and a renewed and revitalised mission. This process involved all sisters in gatherings, consultations and surveys over the next six years.

The journey in this process has not been easy – it has had its accomplishments and its difficulties; its successes and its mistakes. It has not been without pain. However, for me we have arrived during this year, however haltingly, at a position where each congregation has been able to make a decision. This decision concerned the appropriateness of becoming part of a new entity, which would bring together the members of the congregations in such a way that the ideals expressed in the Fifth, and subsequently the Sixth, Institute Chapter might be embraced.

As we are aware some congregations did not see this step as advisable, appropriate or, perhaps, practical for bringing about the hopes expressed at, and prior to, Institute Chapters and elsewhere. There are also some sisters who have expressed dissatisfaction with the processes adopted in coming to this decision. While I regret that not all 18 congregations have elected to come together and that our efforts to bring about the ideals of the Sixth Institute Chapter Statement will not be made completely together, I am excited by the call of that statement to all sisters in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

For me the making of the decision which has enabled the setting up of a new entity has been life-giving. We are challenged now to allow the entity to evolve not as a fourth congregation nor as an amalgamation of fifteen existing congregations, but as a new structure comprised of fresh, creative and imaginative elements for the enlivening of the mission.

The development of some of the ideas in this article, represented by the use of such words as imagining and radical openness, attempts to reflect the concepts of writers such as Mary Chin rsm and Richard Rohr ofm

Shirley Garland rsm

Patricia Blundell’s article “Reflecting on Reconfiguring in Australia” in the latest edition of MERCYWORDS, is so different from mine that I cannot let it go without some comment.

When I read the proceedings of the Institute Chapter in 2004, I certainly did not think that the Institute Leadership Team (ILT) was asked to undertake “some kind of renewal and not much more”.  And obviously the ILT did not interpret its mandate as such. 

A consultative process began in February 2005 and continued for the next five years.  Where was Patricia from 2005 till 2008?   It was during these years that the idea of one canonical congregation emerged from the consultations.  Had there been a strong desire expressed by a majority of sisters not to go in this direction then it would not have been pursued.

For me “part of the pain of the journey” has been the constant insinuation by some of those who did not wish to go down this path, that the ILT was somehow dishonest. 

The other great pain, probably felt by all of us, is that we could not, in good conscience, reach unanimous agreement on a new model.  So be it.  Let the 15 congregations get on with reconfiguring themselves, and let unity in diversity flourish among all Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, whatever their canonical entities are called.

Bernardine Evens RSM (Bathurst Congregation) 

As I read Sister Patricia Blundell’s recent article “Reflecting on Reconfiguring in Australia” which appeared in Mercywords an E-Journal I felt that I wanted to share my experience of the journey into reconfiguring, which has been somewhat different.

It was with a great deal of anticipation, and no little excitement, that I heard the call of the 5th Institute Chapter of the Sisters of Mercy Australia (2004) to embark on the journey of reconfiguring.  I was very aware that the journey would exercise our creative imaginations and call upon our Mercy Tradition to set out with courage, to be open to the new, and to embrace the inherent risks along the way.

As I understood it right from the start, the journey that were undertaking was about discovering new ways to be in communion and to do mission.  Like Catherine and her early sisters our focus was to be a restructuring of our way of being together that we might be more efficient and effective in responding to the call to mission in our very different contemporary world. 

From the very beginning of that journey too, we were all invited to participate in a variety of gatherings and processes which I found profoundly enriching and rewarding – enriching in that a multitude of ideas and stories, yearnings and fears found articulation and became the building blocks of further research and decision-making; rewarding in that we each had the opportunity to broaden our horizons, to meet sisters from across the congregations and to gain a deeper knowledge of the mercy world of Australia and Papua New Guinea. I, personally, have not been disappointed in the journey. 

The decision to move toward one canonical entity was the fruit of five long years of consultation. From my perspective, it seemed to flow quite clearly from the material gathered from these consultations and was confirmed in the choice of the two models developed and presented across the congregations. 

That not every sister or every congregation chose to go with the model finally decided upon, is evidence to me of the authenticity of the processes as participative, respectful of individual freedom, allowing sisters to position themselves where they felt right, and as genuinely desirous of encouraging differing voices to be heard.  And I know from personal experience just how hard our leaders have worked to ensure that such was the case.

There is a great yearning across all the congregations that, regardless of the choice each group has made, there be a continuing, fruitful and loving connection among us.  I am confident that the bonds of mercy life will be preserved and enhanced as we take up the challenge of our Sixth Institute Chapter (September, 2010) to be open to personal and communal conversion and to “relate with a new heart to God, to each other and to all of creation.” 

Helen Mary Peters RSM (Townsville Congregation)

Rather than wait for the next edition of Mercywords: an E-Journal, I would like to make a response here to Patricia Blundell’s essay entitled Reflecting on Reconfiguring in Australia, published in its most recent edition.
Patricia obviously feels deeply about the future of our Mercy life in Australia and Papua New Guinea and I respect this. However, her understanding of the reconfiguring process differs from mine.

Rather than wait for the next edition of Mercywords: an E-Journal, I would like to make a response here to Patricia Blundell’s essay entitled Reflecting on Reconfiguring in Australia, published in its most recent edition.
Patricia obviously feels deeply about the future of our Mercy life in Australia and Papua New Guinea and I respect this. However, her understanding of the reconfiguring process differs from mine.

I was the director of Mercy International Centre, Dublin, at the time of the 5th Institute Chapter (2004). When I read the Chapter’s statement

Reconfiguring is the call of God’s Spirit
to the Institute at this graced moment in our history.
We embark on this journey because God’s mercy and Catherine’s vision demands no less of us.
The journey will be authentic only if our living is congruent with our proclamation.
We call each sister to engage wholeheartedly in this purposeful movement.

~ I felt such delight at the possibilities for the changes which it invited that I longed to be in Australia to participate in the processes that would unfold.

I returned home in 2005 and by then the new Institute Leadership Team had begun to implement the above mandate by initiating six years of wide ranging consultations. Each of these consultations included every sister who wished to engage wholeheartedly in the movement.

I am a member of one of the fifteen congregations which has said a unanimous ‘yes’ to the opportunity for real unity which is the fruit of this long reconfiguring process.

So what is in this for me?  I really look forward to the new way of being in communion which so many sisters throughout Australia and Papua New Guinea have now chosen. As well, I hunger for the new possibilities for mission which are the heart of our life together as Sisters of Mercy in this 21st century.

Rosemary Carroll RSM (Grafton Congregation)

On Reconfiguring the Sisters of Mercy in Australia

While everyone has her own particular perspective on commonly experienced events, and we find others may have a different experience from ours, I found it difficult to see the reconfiguring process that Australian and Papua New Guinean Sisters of Mercy have recently participated in adequately reflected in Patricia Blundell’s article. So while this may be her experience, I ask that others’ experience be heard also.

Throughout 2005 to 2010 we have engaged in multi-level (not just at leadership level) meetings, consultations and various prayerful gatherings of different groups of sisters from across the different seventeen congregations and the  autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.

At these we did not merely vote for unknown and unconsidered futures together, but we got to know each other more, appreciate each others’ experiences and opened ourselves to the continuing challenge to conversion that is at the heart of our Mercy religious life together.

This has been a respectfully long process of decision-making, longer than the term of any parliament in Australia. Even after 6 consultations across our vast country, there was still opportunity for dissent in the indicative (or straw) vote within each congregation. Only after the required majority was reached in that vote then the canonical vote, about which direction each congregation would take, occurred. Following this, each individual sister was given the opportunity of a final personal statement of intent to declare whether she would join the new structure for the Sisters of Mercy.

I suppose it is because I understand the Sisters of Mercy, our lives and mission, to be about more than leadership structures that I welcomed all the opportunities this process has offered us in freedom to recommit ourselves to a future we share where communion has become the sign of our times, as union and charity were to Catherine’s times. This was the spirit in which the 6th Institute Chapter sought to respect the direction not taken by the three congregations who did not wish to have close canonical communion, by allowing for their continued involvement with the newly forming structure.

Janette Gray RSM (Adelaide Congregation)