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The formation of youth leaders : Mercy and Justice flourishing through Faith

Joseph Scales, Susan Holoubek, Helen Owens rsm

How do we nourish a dynamic spirituality of Mercy and Justice among our Mercy school students that will sustain them in future years?  This is the question many congregations have been exploring over the last decade as the Sisters of Mercy continue to withdraw from permanent positions at Mercy schools.

In this exploration we found that many traditional church activities appear to hold less and less relevance or meaning for young people.  The evangelical style experiences hold appeal for a minority of “˜churched’ young people but not necessarily for mainstream youth.

As an experiment, the Adelaide Congregation hosted a regional workshop in May 2004 which was attended by students from nine Mercy schools from across the five congregations of the Southern Seas region (WA, SA, Vic).  Whilst certainly informative, in terms of formation and ongoing commitment, this “one-off” experience did not effectively respond to our question.

Eventually we arrived at the idea of a student-led Mercy social justice network with facilitation support from the Sisters of Mercy.  We decided to continue to work across the five congregations of the Southern Seas region.  It was envisaged as a project of intensive formation and support for two student leaders from each of the congregations, to seed and develop local networks of the many students and old scholars with a gut-interest in “˜Justice’ and in “˜Mercy’.  It was hoped that this would support and further the work of consciousness-raising and action for justice already being undertaken in local Mercy secondary schools, whilst adding coherence for the students to these actions as acts of “˜Mercy’ in their worlds.

The first group of 10 met in January 2005 at Victor Harbor (SA) and chose to name the network, the Young Mercy Justice Tree (YMJT) and added the motto Making Justice Flourish!  The Tree had been used as a symbol of each person’s life journeys when they first began to explore and share their life experiences.  The students liked the idea of being new “branches and leaves” of the strong historical experience of the Mercy Sisters.

In May 2005, the YMJT team went on to co-ordinate a similar regional workshop as in 2004, but now with attendants from 14 schools in the region. 

The team met for a third and final time in September 2005 where they continued their formation process as well as analysed the pilot project.  It was again felt that the May workshop did not help in answering that key question so it was decided that in 2006 the time and resources would be focussed on more intensive formation of the 2006 YMJT team.

Towards the end of 2005, on behalf of the network, the Adelaide based co-ordination team (Meredith Evans rsm, Helen Owens rsm, Susan Holoubek, Joseph Scales) invited all Mercy schools in the region to participate in 2006 by funding a student.  All 16 schools nominated at least one student, resulting in a 2006 group of 21 people!

The network has also this year employed Kate Walsh, and old scholar of St. Aloysius College Adelaide, as project facilitator.  Kate’s role is not to simply facilitate the three meetings but to be key in maintaining contact between students and supporting students between meetings.  Anne Foale rsm and Brendan Connell CP have also joined in 2006 as assistant facilitators and presenters.

We are hoping that the initial group of leaders (YMJT team ’05) will continue to support the network as they move into post-school experiences and that we can slowly begin to incorporate a growing network of old scholars as well as senior secondary students. In this way the leadership in faith and justice will be an integral part of parishes and local communities.

Some of the benefits and key aspects of the project include:

  • A simple but flexible structure that is student owned and driven

  • Focus on specific issues of concern that the students bring

  • Following the accessible Cardign methodology of SEE, JUDGE, ACT

  • Forming young leaders in the tradition of Mercy through modern means and technologies

  • Developing an understanding of Mercy students’ role in the international Mercy community

  • Linking our Mercy students through action and personal connection with global Mercy projects

  • Through spectating, acting and reflecting, encouraging students to begin to define “˜Mercy’ in their life

  • Encouraging informal prayerful reflection on social justice actions.

This network will provide an ongoing forum for young people of Mercy across the region to connect via web technologies as well as providing regular local and regional opportunities to gather for reflection, prayer and celebration around their continuing work for Mercy and Justice in their studies, chosen professions and involvement in local and global communities.

Messages to Helen Owens rsm –