The Second Vatican Council, in the 1960’s, stimulated a renewed sense of responsibility for evangelisation and a greater understanding of the needs of the third world. Amidst all the changes which ensued, dioceses began to take on their responsibility for areas of the third world.
The Leeds diocese sent priests to Peru and this was followed by a request from Bishop Gordon Wheeler to each of the autonomous Mercy Congregations in the diocese to send one Sister to Peru. His view was that the charism and experience of the Sisters of Mercy made them the obvious choice to facilitate the work of the priests among the poorest of the poor. The Sisters felt that it was very much in keeping with the mind of the Foundress, Catherine McAuley, who had herself volunteered to go to Newfoundland at the age of 61 in 1839 just two years before her death.
A small group of Sisters from Barnsley, Clifford (Doncaster), Leeds, and Sheffield started the first Mercy Mission to Peru in 1969, working with the Columban Fathers at Tupac Amaru. The first Sisters to go were Sisters Assumpta, Mildred, Mary Mercy and Carmela. The Sisters also set up self-help initiatives and health care facilities at Villa Maria, working in the shanty towns of Lima’s largest rubbish tip. At all times the Sisters set out to be ‘enablers’ so that the people grew in self esteem and independence through the ownership of these many initiatives.
Also around this time the Wanstead Community sent the first Sisters to Kenya, initially working with the Mill Hill Fathers. Sisters Agnes and Monica were the first to travel to Kenya and established a Primary School and later worked with Brother John in the mission Polytechnic school at Koru, just six miles from the Equator and forty-eight miles from Kisumu. Sisters were recalled and replaced from time to time and gradually other Mercy Sisters took up the challenge. Early in the time in Kenya Sister Camillus went to the Turkana Desert area where she experienced Missionary life at its limits, due to intense heat, drought and famine. These pioneering Missions have now spread to other areas, many Sisters having spent time there.
The pioneering work established in both Peru and Kenya is still being carried out, where the need is greatest, in our Mercy Missions today.