Over 100 years of mercy and wisdom in our parish
There is a group of women living in our parish who have established our schools and grown them to what they are today. They have done this so that everyone has access to a great education. Education that gives young parishioners a good start in life. These same women have quietly, without any one knowing, made sure families in the parish that are going through hard times don’t go hungry. These same women get around and talk with people who might not otherwise have people to talk to.
These women living with us are known as the Mercy Sisters.
They started ministering simultaneously in two areas in the parish over 100 years ago. Carrying their books and things for the day regardless of the weather, the early Mercy Sisters would walk over to Kilbirnie from Newtown. In Kilbirnie they would use the combined church and school building to teach the local parish children and care for the local families.
A woman who had originally been a Sister went out on her own to establish a Catholic school for girls, St Francis Xavier’s Academy (picture above), in Seatoun Heights. When in 1909 her venture got into difficulties the Sisters purchased it to open Star of the Sea Preparatory College for boys.
In Kilbirnie there was a large wooden building which stood on the hill overlooking the village, where St Catherine’s College Coolock Block now is, which Catherine Bourke, the wife of Mr M F Bourke had acquired. She had it transferred in 1917 with its mortgages ‘in natural love and affection’ to her niece Agnes Bourke, a Mercy Sister, for use as a place for the Sisters to live and base their work.
Parish Schools in Seatoun and Miramar followed. Today’s Sisters are based in Athens Street, Miramar. Their current ministry in our parish includes the continuing development of St Catherine’s College and looking after families in need.
Mercy Sisters seek to live the Gospel of Jesus by engaging in the works of Mercy, according to the charism of their founder Catherine McAuley. Together with their companions in mission, their vision is for a world where God’s generous love and mercy are experienced by all.
Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland in 1831. From these small beginnings sisters and their companions in mission now work in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Sisters of Mercy were the first religious sisters to come to Aotearoa New Zealand arriving in Auckland on 9 April 1850. They came in response to a call from wāhine Māori.
From 1850 to 1897 four Mercy Congregations were founded in Aotearoa. On 12 December 2005 the four Congregations of Aotearoa united to become a single Congregation – Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand. This decision was inspired by the Sisters’ desire to become ‘a new creation for mission’ and underlines the truth that faithfulness to God’s mission means openness to the future and change.
Catherine’s vision of a world transformed by God’s love was fired by her deep conviction that she and her colleagues could make a difference to people’s lives. While each Mercy ministry has its own specific focus, it will include some or all of the following:
· Service to the poor - Catherine’s unique gift was to draw wealthy and poor into a mutually enriching partnership. Mercy is called to stand with the vulnerable, working to transform society by linking need with resources.
· Care of the sick and dying - The first ‘walking sisters’ nursed victims of Dublin’s cholera epidemic a year after the Congregation was founded. Today Mercy is especially committed to those who are very sick and old, combining compassionate care with professional skills.
· Empowerment of women and girls - Catherine recognised education as the key to improving life for women and their families. Mercy education is aimed today at empowering women in the search for a more just and sustainable world, and at equipping them for leadership in all fields of human endeavour.
· Advocacy - Enlisting the aid of people with power and influence was one of Catherine’s strategies for achieving change. Mercy is committed to speaking on behalf of those on the margins of society, and to joining with other voices in calling for constructive change.
· Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi - Catherine’s sisters went only where they were invited and stayed only as long as required. It was in response to the karanga from Māori that the Sisters of Mercy first came to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1850; today that response endures in a strong commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi and to creative partnerships with Māori.
· Care of the Earth - Catherine’s spirituality enabled her to see God’s presence in the whole of life. Today Mercy is committed to preserving the integrity of creation, seeing human beings as connected with and dependent on all other living species.
The Sister’s do not hold back in standing up for people in need. They are a gutsy, hard working group of determined women.
Last year the entire body of students from St Catherine’s gathered at Parliament, joining with Sisters and supporters, asking for better housing for people on lower incomes. Mercy schools and communities from around the country contributed to a series of Shelter for All books. Each book has stories, pictures and poems reflecting the need for action against homelessness. These are not books so much as a gallery of people’s lives condensed and from the heart.
Catherine’s insistence that the “poor need help today and not next week”, calls us to respond in compassionate way. We cannot fix the whole world but we can stretch out to mend the part that is within our reach, one person at a time.
All young women in the parish seeking to follow Jesus in adventure at the edge of society where things aren’t always ordered and predicatable are invited to contact the Sisters in Mirarmar. Ring Sister Stephanie on 027- 2458859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
When you contact them you will find that they will be interested in you and what you want to achieve. Don’t be under any illusion - these are hard working women because they are ultimately working for justice. They will want to discuss with you whether you are ready to make a real difference for the better, in the world.
After a time of exploring what you would like to contribute you have the option of living in one of the Mercy communities. From this you will get a sense of what it is to help people that are struggling and in need not next week but in the immediate moment.
When you confirm that this is the way you want to live your life you apply to become a novice. This is a two year commitment of study and prayer. If this goes well you can take first vows that mean you are ready for five years of deep reflection, growth and grace-filled joy. At the end of it are final vows and the tasks ahead!
On Good Friday many gathered to carry a cross through Seatoun to the beach and back. They paused along the way at significant places, including other churches, for Stations of the Cross.
At Seatoun beach everyone present was asked to gather stones from the beach to make a cross on the footpath. People passing through the day and into Easter will have seen the cross of stones.
Signs of Christianity such as us walking with a cross and the cross of stones at the beach help people to know that God is with them. Have you thought about what signs you show and leave behind in your daily work?
WHEN IT'S HARD TO PRAY
It’s true, praying is not always easy. When we find it hard we can go to Mass and in the Eucharist we eat Jesus and in a physical way He becomes part of us. This makes it easier to talk with Him and we find ourselves praying.
The Parish Prayer Group meets at 7am on Mondays to pray for our parish and parishioners. They rotate between the three churches of the parish. After they have finished praying they go to a nearby café for breakfast.
When it’s hard to pray, it can help when other people pray for us. The Parish Prayer Group would be pleased to pray for you and your needs over the coming month. Just send a text to Dave on 027 447 7280 or Kim on 0222426288. Send a name and a brief word description (no detail necessary) of what you would like prayed for.
This old lady is Mother M Bernard Redwood. As a Sister of Mercy she lived on the hill above Seatoun in the early 1920s, way before mum and dad were born. See if you can answer these questions about her and the Mercy Sisters. The first person handing in the right answers to the parish office gets a book voucher.
Are you ready?
· What are the clothes that Mother Bernard is wearing called?
· What sort of people wear these clothes?
· What is special about these people?
· Do they wear the same clothes today?
· What work do these people do today in our parish?
· Where do they live in our parish?
· How do you go about joining them in their work?
Now for a really hard question. If you get this right you won’t only get a book voucher but you will also get a very chocolatey bonus prize.
· Mother Bernard Redwood was related to a famous person in the early history of Wellington, do you know who that was?
If you meet a Sister of Mercy carrying on Mother Bernard’s work in our parish, say hello to them. You can ask them what they do and offer to help.
...is editor of our monthly magazine. If you have news and views to share please email them to: email@example.com