Parish Ministry

"Mercy, The Business of our Lives"

Sister Martine

Grace, it is claimed builds on nature. Catherine McAuley the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, was a business woman par excellence. She had all the skills of her father, James McAuley, a successful businessman, and a man of tender-heart. No wonder she promoted her venture for the poor with the Mission Statement, “Mercy is the business of our lives”.

That was in the year 1831, a time when poverty, homelessness, disease and discrimination stalked the land. Yes, there was poor-relief, but at the price of one’s dignity and self-respect. There were work-houses but often with brutality and disrespect. There were soup-kitchens, provided one was prepared to barter one’s conscience; and schooling was a luxury for those who could afford it.

Into this situation stepped the practical Catherine who said, “The poor need help to-day, not next week”. Having been left a substantial fortune by a Quaker couple, she took the To-Day of her life and in a very short time set in motion, what was to become one of the largest Catholic Charities in the Church.

Lest you think one needs numbers and vast resources to begin a good work for the needy, listen to Catherine again, “the work began with two, Sister Doyle and I”; and as for resources she claimed, “We depend largely on Divine Providence, and God is a faithful provider”.

Where and what are the daughter of this great woman of Mercy in the year 2006? They are in fact, to be found in all five Continents, active in the works of Education, Health-Care, Prison Visiting, Home Visiting, Parish Ministry; and it is on this last that I particularly want to focus on this page.

The simplest definition of Mercy Ministry, that I have heard of, outside of Scripture, is the one, unwittingly given by a little girl of three years, from the Ballymun district of Dublin. Arms outstretched, pigtails flying, she ran to meet her friend, Sr. M. Mercy, expecting to be swept off her feet and wrapped in enveloping arms. How taken aback was Rosie, to hear Sister say, “I’m sorry, Rosie, I can’t pick you up just now, as you see, I’m laden with shopping”. Quick as a flash, Rosie said accusingly: “Yes, but you could stoop down and kiss me”.

Mercy is indeed, the ability to bend down and lift up the hurting people within our reach. Parish Ministry is on our doorstep. We are all immersed in it, inside and outside the Convent.

These words, which may or may not be Catherine McAuley’s own, certainly epitomise her spirit and our own aspirations.

“This is the way we must do it –

  • One person at a time.
  • One answering of the doorbell.
  • One opening of the door;
  • One embrace of the stranger;
  • One welcoming of the other;
  • One sharing of our bread and milk;

Competition, consumerism, efficiency, status, fashion, have so drained us of the joy of the present moment, that we need an ever increasing flow of ordinary people, fired by Catherine’s Vision, calling us to be doorstep Apostles. Let this be our Business Target.

A Sister of Mercy