‘The passion that the Sisters of Mercy have put into the task of uniting as a new Congregation of Sisters of Mercy should inspire other Catholics as it has implications for the life of the Church.’
This is the view of Maureen Cleary who has facilitated the unification process of the four Sisters of Mercy Congregations.
Sydneysider Maureen Cleary works extensively with religious orders and other church organisations and dioceses in facilitating and mentoring their processes. She has a degree in management of organisational structures.
‘With an average age of 72 it seems absolutely ridiculous for them [the Sisters] to take such a step but they have done it with such energy and commitment to both the Church and society. They still believe that they can make a difference.
‘At this stage in the Church’s history, we should all be paying a bit of attention to what groups like these Sisters of Mercy are doing, especially the passion they bring to a process like this one. The world today is so concerned about rationalism and being sure of everything we do before we do it, knowing what the outcomes are etc, I think that these women are doing something very counter-cultural. They are saying something very basic about the gospel, about trust and about faith.’
Through working with the Sisters on this project, Maureen says she started seeing a Church with new light and hope.
‘For me the questions are not just about the nuts and bolts of what they’re doing. The process has obviously been Spirit-led. They haven’t got a clue about what it’s going to mean to them personally. It would be like giving up your family after 40, 50 or 60 years. For religious, their life is not just the ministry – it’s at the very essence of who they are. Their total identity is caught up in this. And now they’re saying at this stage of their lives, we’ll cease belonging to this group and we’ll all come together as a new group. That takes great courage.
‘In fact, whatever they’re being led into may never become clear in their lives. And in some ways that’s what their foundress, Catherine McAuley, did. When you look back on her history and see all the things she did, you realise that she wouldn’t have been aware of the implications of what she was doing at that time.
‘In the light of history, she was on about doing ordinary things in ordinary people’s lives, and so are those women. I think there’s something here to entice us all – taking a risk in faith. Far from being anxious about this decision the Sisters appear to me to be now facing this new stage with gracious expectation.’
Maureen Cleary says that while she has been working for nearly two years with the four groups who have come together to form the new Mercy Congregation, Nga Whaea Atawhai O Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand, it has been a 10-year journey for them. She says the challenge for her as an Australian was working in another culture and learning to respect that culture and the importance of Māori to the New Zealand culture ‘so I grew a lot’.
‘It needs faith, patience and lots of respectful listening. I’m always overwhelmed, in these processes, by the fact that these groups invite me into their most sacred space to walk with them, to be with them and to trust me in this way.’