Connect with Mercy

Looking Back: Reflecting on an Act of Civil Disobedience

April 19, 2018

By Sister Karen Donahue

On February 27, 42 faith leaders were arrested in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Building after refusing to disperse by request of the Capitol police. They stood in solidarity with Dreamers, young people protected from deportation by President Obama’s 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program who now face deportation under the Trump administration.

Sister Karen Donahue

Sister Karen Donahue (right) stands with other Catholic women religious for justice for immigrants.

It is not every day that one receives a call extending an invitation to engage in an act of civil disobedience. Yet this is what happened to me early in February 2018.

The caller was Sister JoAnn Persch who has been deeply involved in the struggle for compassionate and humane immigration reform for many years. Faith in Public Life, a Washington, D.C.-based organization working to change the narrative about the role of faith in politics, had contacted Sister JoAnn and Pat Murphy to consider the possibility of having a group of Catholic women religious engage in a nonviolent civil disobedience. The act would take place on Capitol Hill in solidarity with the Dreamers.

I have to admit that I did not have a moment’s hesitation in responding affirmatively to JoAnn’s request. I have taken part in several civil disobedience actions over the years and know that it is not something to be taken lightly. Civil disobedience is something to which one is called and our Chapter commitment to stand in solidarity with immigrants seeking fullness of life was calling me to move beyond the vigils, visitation of immigrants held in detention and the political advocacy in which I am already engaged.   Read More »

Mercy and Poetry—Writing Gives Voice to Mercy

April 16, 2018

By Sister Megan Brown

This is the fourth reflection in our Poetry and Mercy series as part of National Poetry Month. Read the whole series here.

In the beginning was the
WORD and the WORD was
with God and the WORD was
God (John 1:1).

Sister Megan Brown

I am in love with words, all kinds of words, especially the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jessica Powers, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats and Mary Oliver. John Donne has a place and Shakespeare, of course, as well as Thomas Merton, George Herbert and John O’Donohue. Rilke and Tennyson dwell in this space, as well as the lyricism of the Song of Songs, Rumi, Hafiz, Annie Dillard and Diane Ackerman. Of course Saints Therese and Teresa and Francis and Clare accompany me. It is however, the poetry of the Celts that lives deep within me.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the beauty of words. My parents read to us each night—fairytales and history and poetry. As a child in elementary school, I delighted in poetry study. As an elementary school teacher, short-lived as that career was, I loved to coax words from my students. When I taught persons incarcerated in one of the Philadelphia city prisons, I published poems written by the men in my creative writing class.

My Love of Words

Words tumble into my mind, sing in my heart and scatter across the computer screen. I am forever indebted to “delete” and “backspace” and all the other miracles performed by computers each day, because sometimes words escape and take on a life of their own. At times, words need to be corralled and lovingly herded into place.

Words are clever. They are slippery. They rise and fall, haunt and elude. Words are patient. They come only at the right time in the right place. They cannot, will not, dare not be coerced. Words will not sacrifice freedom.

As for me, I must write. I must have a pencil in hand. Pens are too hard to erase. I must have well-worn notebooks empty and waiting for the precise word to birth on their pages.

Writing Gives Voice to Prayer and Mercy

“I must have a pencil in hand,” says Sister Meg Brown. “Pens are too hard to erase.” Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash.

For me, writing gives voice to prayer and most especially, writing gives voice to mercy. Hopkins says it so well in his magnificent poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”: “We are wound with mercy round and round as with air.” Merton echoes Hopkins: “Mercy within mercy within mercy.” Mercy is a poem.

Gustave Flaubert observes that “there is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.” I have often wondered how his observation applied to Auschwitz; Birkenau; North Korea; Guantanamo Bay; Iran; Iraq; Charlottesville, Virginia; and areas devastated by natural disasters. Where is the poetry in these “particle [s] of life?”

Perhaps the poetry is in the question; perhaps the poetry is in the lives of Etty Hillesum and Edith Stein. Perhaps the poetry is in the lives of practitioners of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps poetry exists whenever one of us dares to hope against impossible odds; whenever one of us joins with other “uses” and says, “No more to hate and violence and revenge.” Perhaps poetry plunges into flood waters to rescue elderly persons in a nursing home. Perhaps poetry resides in the small everyday kindnesses we extend to each other. For we who are Mercy, I believe poetry looks very much like Jesus of Nazareth, whom Jorgè Pagola calls the “poet of God’s compassion.”

Poetry abides in the depths of the human heart. Its expression is in the elegance of mathematics and music and art. Poetry is at the heart of God envisioned through a woman named Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, and enfleshed in each of us. I cannot not be enamored by words (double negative intended). They dance off the page for me and run into sunsets into those thin spaces and thin times where I must patiently wait to receive them.

Misericordia y poesía—La escritura da voz a la misericordia

April 16, 2018

Por la Hermana Megan Brown

Al principio era el Verbo,
y frente a Dios era el Verbo,
y el Verbo era Dios. (Juan 1, 1)

Hermana Megan Brown

Estoy enamorada de las palabras, todo tipo de palabras, especialmente las palabras de Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jessica Powers, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats y Mary Oliver. John Donne tiene un lugar y Shakespeare, por supuesto, así como también Thomas Merton, George Herbert y John O’Donohue. Rilke y Tennyson moran en este espacio, al igual que el lirismo del Cantar de los Cantares, Rumi, Hafiz, Annie Dillard y Diane Ackerman. Por supuesto santa Teresa, san Francisco y santa Clara me acompañan. Es, sin embargo, la poesía de los celtas que vive en lo más profundo de mí.

Desde que tengo memoria me ha fascinado la belleza de las palabras. Mis padres nos leían cada noche: cuentos de hadas, historia y poesía. Como niña en la primaria, me encantaba el estudio de la poesía. Como profesora de primaria, corta como esa carrera fue, me encantaba sonsacar palabras de mis estudiantes. Cuando enseñé a encarcelados en una de las prisiones en la ciudad de Filadelfia, publiqué poemas escritos por los hombres en mi clase de escritura creativa.

Mi amor por las palabras

Las palabras me vienen a la mente, entonan cantos en mi corazón y se dispersan a través de la pantalla de la computadora. Estoy siempre en deuda con «eliminar» y «retroceder» y todos los otros milagros realizados por las computadoras cada día, porque a veces las palabras se escapan y cobran vida propia. A veces, las palabras necesitan ser acorraladas y arreadas amorosamente en su lugar.

Las palabras son inteligentes. Son resbaladizas. Suben y caen, atormentan y se esquivan. Las palabras son pacientes. Vienen sólo en el momento adecuado y en el lugar correcto. No pueden, no serán, no se atreven de ser coaccionadas. Las palabras no sacrificarán la libertad.

En cuanto a mí, debo escribir. Debo tener un lápiz en mano. Los bolígrafos son muy difíciles de borrar. Debo tener cuadernos bien-gastados, vacíos y esperando para que nazca la palabra precisa en sus páginas.

La escritura da voz a la oración y a la misericordia

«Debo tener un lápiz en mano», dice la Hermana Megan Brown. «Los bolígrafos son muy difíciles de borrar». Foto de Angelina Litvin en Unsplash.

Para mí, la escritura da voz a la oración y, sobre todo, la escritura da voz a la misericordia. Hopkins lo dice tan bien en su magnífico poema, «El Naufragio de la Deutschland»: «Estamos envueltos con misericordia en nuestro alrededor como con aire». Merton hace eco de Hopkins «Misericordia dentro de la misericordia dentro de la misericordia». La Misericordia es un poema.

Gustave Flaubert comenta que «no hay una partícula de vida que no lleve poesía dentro de ella». A menudo me he preguntado cómo se aplicó su comentario a Auschwitz; Birkenau; Corea del Norte; Bahía de Guantánamo; Irán; Iraq; Charlottesville, Virginia; y áreas devastadas por desastres naturales. ¿Dónde está la poesía en esta[s] «partícula [s] de vida?».

Tal vez la poesía esté en la pregunta; quizás la poesía esté en las vidas de Etty Hillesum y Edith Stein. Tal vez la poesía esté en las vidas de los practicantes de islam, judaísmo y cristianismo. Quizás la poesía exista cuando uno de nosotros se atreva a tener esperanza contra las probabilidades imposibles; cada vez que uno de nosotros se una a otros «usos» y diga «no más al odio, la violencia y la venganza». Es posible que la poesía se sumerja en las aguas de la inundación para rescatar a las personas mayores en un asilo. Quizás la poesía resida en las pequeñas bondades diarias que nos extendemos mutuamente. Para quienes somos Misericordia, creo que la poesía se parece mucho a Jesús de Nazaret, a quien Jorgè Pagola llama el «poeta de la compasión de Dios».

La poesía permanece en las profundidades del corazón humano. Su expresión está en la elegancia de las matemáticas, la música y el arte. La poesía está en el corazón de Dios que se vislumbra a través de una mujer llamada Catalina McAuley, fundadora de las Hermanas de la Misericordia y encarnada en cada una de nosotras. No puedo no estar enamorada de las palabras (doble negativo intencionado). Ellas salen de mi página bailando y corren hacia horizontes en esas delgadas líneas y tiempos donde yo debo de esperar pacientemente para recibirlas.

Mercy and Poetry—Poetry Evolved from My Spiritual Life

April 13, 2018

By Eileen McGovern, Mercy Associate

This is the third reflection in our Poetry and Mercy series as part of National Poetry Month. Read the whole series here.

I love to meditate on nature. My spirituality is Ignatian, so I imitate Gerard Manley Hopkins in seeking the “inscape” of creation. I also love to meditate on the scriptures and to place myself in the scene to make them more immediate by using imagery that creates a concrete word picture. At it’s best, my poetry is the fruit of prayer and meditation.

I began to write poetry because a friend asked that I write her a poem as a Christmas gift. I still write poetry more as a gift than as self-expression. I need an occasion or a person to motivate me. My poetry evolved from my spiritual life, so it is personal.

My Perspective

Mercy Associate Eileen McGovern admires nature in the Tranquility Garden at McAuley Convent in Merion, Pennsylvania.

I see the world from the perspective of a 72-year old woman living most of her life in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was also privileged to have taught for seven years in Puerto Rico. The older generation has always mourned the passing of their era; however, I believe that the United States is now at a critical juncture. I believe we are in danger of losing the collective civic and religious virtues that de Toqueville celebrated and that have sustained our nation even with its materialism, imperialism and all the other “isms” that have sullied our history. We are now a nation at war with ourselves. And because of our role in the world, our conflicts have global consequences.   Read More »

Mercy Student Speaks at March for Our Lives Rally in Providence

April 9, 2018

“This is the beginning of what, I believe, can be an extremely powerful movement.” With these and other rousing words, Virginia Nault, a junior at the Sisters of Mercy’s St. Mary Academy – Bay View High School in Rhode Island, moved thousands of demonstrators at the Providence March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018. A transcript of Virginia’s remark is below; her speech can be watched on YouTube. The Sisters of Mercy are proud to see our students among those who are speaking out for change. We are committed to nonviolence and are pleased to amplify the voices of students like Virginia.

Student Virginia Nault delivers her speech at the March For Our Lives.

Good afternoon, everyone. I would first like to start by thanking every one of you for coming out today and showing your support for this movement. I would also like to thank Sophia [a march leader] for giving me the opportunity to be able to stand in front of you all and be able to speak from the perspective of a current high school student for whom this issue hits way too close to home. My name is Virginia Nault; I am 17 years old and a junior in high school.

I remember it like it was yesterday when the news about Sandy Hook [the 2012 school shooting in Connecticut] broke. I was still in elementary school, just like the 20 children killed that day. In the aftermath, I remember security measures heightened at my school. Main doors were locked, cameras installed, and whenever I had “front desk duty” while the secretary went to lunch, I was not allowed to open the door for anyone, even if I knew them. It was evident to me, even at 12 years old, that what had happened had shocked and scared the nation. That was over five years ago. That should have been enough. Those 20 children we lost that day should have been enough to spark a change so that it never happened again. The New York Times reports that since Sandy Hook, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. Clearly, Sandy Hook was not the end as it should have been.   Read More »

Mercy and Poetry—A Challenge, a Delight

April 6, 2018

By Sister Regine Fanning

This is the second reflection in our Poetry and Mercy series as part of National Poetry Month. Read the whole series here.

Sister Regine Fanning

I love words. I’m fascinated by them. To me, their mystery pairs with gift. As a child, when I would ask my dad the meaning of a word, in his own gentle, nudging way, he would say, “Ask the dictionary.”

As a primary school teacher, words became my challenge. When I later taught intermediate grades and then high school, poetry became my specialty. Typically for most students, poetry proved at first a challenge, but later a delight.

Pursuing degrees, my chosen courses for theology and spiritual direction opened me to a whole new vocabulary. Now, in my later years, their gift lies in the depth of their power in seeking God’s gift of the word.

Three Poems by Sister Regine
Sister Regine shared the following poems for the blog:

Wandering with Words
I have grown taller
wandering with words.
At first, floundering,
but their spirit kept
tugging – drawing me
to mystery.

I basked in richness,
texture with color,
iridescent scenes,
rainbows of nature,
fields of wild flowers,
one smiling sky.

I found rare power—
“I’m sorry.”—healing.
“I’ll help.”—affirming.
“Come in.”—welcoming.
With teasing—tickles.
Radiant joy!

Satire so sluggish,
I ran giddily
with rhyme and rhythm,
unearthing fullness.
Danced my own ballet,
words energized.

Coming to quiet,
Seeking THE WORD.
Why not choose new words
to share the story
my life is writing
anew each day?   Read More »

Humor, can-do attitude go a long way at convent

April 5, 2018

By Beth Rogers Thompson

Sister Judy Gradel’s welcoming smile and warmth immediately make a visitor feel comfortable at McAuley Convent in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can feel the embrace of the convent’s homey environment.

Sister Judy has been extending Mercy hospitality and a can-do attitude as McAuley’s administrator and community life coordinator since September 2005.

Previous ministries

Prior to that, she ministered in education, as a teacher and an elementary school principal. At her alma mater, McAuley High School in Toledo, Ohio, she taught math and earth science. Later, she taught math for 18 years at McAuley High, which is next door to the convent in Cincinnati. “I loved teaching, the thinking involved, especially in calculus, and the performing aspect of teaching,” Sister Judy says.

Sister Judy Gradel (left), administrator at McAuley Convent in Cincinnati, confers with Joyce Jostworth, assistant administrator.

Born in Toledo, she met the Sisters of Mercy when she attended McAuley High School there. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and the sisters were excellent teachers,” she says. “That, their dedication, and their lifestyle were what first attracted me to religious life.” She entered the Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati in 1963.

For two years somewhere in the middle of the teaching, Sister Judy ran an emergency service center in Covington, Kentucky. She felt she did a good job of stacking food, straightening donated clothing and record keeping, but eventually decided that the best of her talents lay elsewhere.

Today, as convent administrator, she supervises all the employees and helps to see that the sisters’ needs are met. “The employees are devoted to the sisters and treat them with such respect and gentleness,” she says. Read More »

Mercy and Poetry—Poetry is Lifeline

April 4, 2018

This is the first reflection in our Poetry and Mercy series as part of National Poetry Month. Read the whole series here.

One of the ways I cultivate, integrate and deepen love and mercy is through poetry.

I have delighted in listening to poetry for as long as I can remember. A very significant person in my life, my great-aunt Peg (whom we called “Auntie”), recited poems from memory. She was an Auntie Mame-type: always fun, deeply affirming and extremely engaging. She spontaneously broke into verse. She entranced me with words and images that created a magical world where life was precise, beautiful (even when hard) and really real.

Sister Danielle Gagnon

As Essential as Air to Breathe
When I was in junior high I began writing poems. I learned during those adolescent years that by putting pen to paper I could share what otherwise would remain unexpressed. Since then, poetry has become a lifeline for me. I am often inspired to develop lines I’ve written in my journal into poetry. When I am struggling to understand something that is happening or what I am feeling, crafting poetry helps me to name it and pursue its deeper meaning. Poetry as expression of what is in my heart is vital and has led me to discover so much about the presence of God, the spiritual life (especially my own spirituality) and myself. It has become nearly as essential as air to breathe. As poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser said, “The sources of poetry are in the spirit seeking completeness.” I have learned that there are things that will be revealed to me only through the power of poetry.

Two Poems by Sister Danielle
In this spirit, I share a poem I wrote for Auntie. I have introduced you to a very special person, and I hope that she inspires you.

Auntie
Her voice was draped in Erwin Pearl
And wrapped around the words
Of any poem or song she unfurled
With zealous abandon.
The things she'd say
That no one else
Could or would dare
Only drew me in closer
To Shalimar-soaked air
Where the earth was wet with life
She wrung from the day.
Auntie taught me how to pray.
Not with words,
She did little in a usual way,
But by how well she loved me
And a snifter of brandy.
Her whole heart hung on the edge
Of the pool – in summer sun
Long days browning,
Counting laps or seconds
I could hold a handstand.

She was all there;
Her whole self the prayer.

The second poem is one I wrote as I was struggling with shedding some of the ways I used to name myself and measure my success. It’s about the process of coming to know myself in Mercy and as poet.

Names
I used to have a name or two
That suit-ed me just fine.
Basic black, classic style…
Lovely, really, and sophisticated.
Dress them up or down,
Day to night, no matter the occasion
They were perfect and they were mine.
An easy answer to any question asked.
A ready response to the demands of the day.

One day I woke to find they no longer fit.
I’d have cried if I thought it permanent.
Out grown or grown out, I was unsure.
I looked them up and down, turned
Them inside out. To the eye, they
Looked the same. Once on, they
Felt different…or, did I?
I’d begun to feel constrained
By the old, familiar names.

They live, now, in the dark of my closet;
Hanging memories of well-dressed days
When a name meant something more.
Sometimes I look on them with longing;
Feel the fine fabric, the smart stitch.
Wondering if I could wear them again…
If I tried, would they fit?

I smile and close the closet door.
I haven’t need for names anymore.

Easter 2018 Reflection: Have You Been to the Garden?

March 31, 2018

By Sister Wanda Smith

View and print this reflection as a PDF.

For the past weeks of Lent we have reflected on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. Our hearts have been moved by the passion of Christ and his instructions to us as he was dying. We walked with him through the retelling, and we sat by the empty tomb during Holy Week. What a tragic end to the story of this remarkable person.

But wait, the story doesn’t end there! We have been invited to go to the garden. Maybe we go like the women who went there early that Easter Sunday morning expecting to find the tomb covered, expecting to find it the way we left it before the Sabbath. But that isn’t how our God works. That is not the end of the story.

Let turn our attention to the first word of the Risen Christ.

First, picture the scene …

The women, including Mary Magdalene, reported that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty when they went to the garden.

Peter and John race to the tomb in the garden and find it as the women said.

Can you feel the loss, the puzzlement, the wonder, the fear and maybe even a slight glimmer of hope as they leave the garden?   Read More »

Reflexión de Pascua 2018: ¿Has estado en el huerto?

March 31, 2018

Por la Hermana Wanda Smith

Ver e imprimir esta reflexión como un formato de documento portátil.

Durante las últimas semanas de Cuaresma hemos meditado en las Siete Últimas Palabras de Jesús. Nuestros corazones se conmovieron por la pasión de Cristo y las instrucciones que nos dio mientras él agonizaba. Caminamos con él a través de escuchar de nuevo la historia de su pasión y muerte, y mientras nos sentábamos junto a la tumba vacía durante la Semana Santa. Qué fin tan trágico para la historia de esta notable persona.

¡Mas, espera; la historia no termina allí! Se nos ha invitado a ir al huerto. Quizás vayamos como las mujeres que fueron allí temprano esa mañana del Domingo de Pascua, esperando encontrar la tumba cerrada, esperando hallarla como la dejamos antes del sábado. Sin embargo, no es así cómo Dios obra. Ese no es el fin de esta historia.

Volvamos nuestra atención a la primera palabra del Cristo Resucitado.

Primero, imagina la escena…

Las mujeres, incluso María Magdalena, contó que la piedra de la entrada había sido removida y que la tumba estaba vacía cuando ellas fueron al huerto.

Pedro y Juan corrieron a la tumba en el huerto y la hallaron como las mujeres dijeron.

¿Puedes sentir la sensación de la pérdida, el desconcierto, el miedo y tal vez hasta un ligero destello de esperanza al salir del huerto? Read More »