Joy and Compassion: My Journey to Become a Sister of Mercy
March 9, 2017
By Sister Barbara Freemyer
I am from Independence, Missouri. I come from a Catholic family including my parents, five brothers and one sister. I am number six out of seven, and I have 18 nieces and nephews and more than 10 great-nieces and great-nephews!
We lived around the corner from my grade school, the Mercy Convent, so I grew up with the Sisters of Mercy who taught me in grade school as well as high school. I watched these joyful women minister to the families and students as they joined in the parish activities that surrounded me on a daily basis. I was able to pay attention at an early age to what was occurring around me—the joy and compassion that I witnessed. I knew that God was going to ask something different of me. I did not know what it would be, but I seemed to know it was not going to be marriage.
A Family that Prays Together
My family was very active within parish life. My brothers all served at the Liturgy. I began to wonder why I could not serve on the altar! We prayed together as a family and we spent time praying the rosary, even with my grandparents. My mother had a deep devotion to Mary, and we would talk about that relationship.
I went on to high school where I became even closer to the Sisters of Mercy as teachers. Again, their compassion and joy kept me coming back to my own question as to how I might serve. My heart continued to speak to me about ministry while I went on with my life of dating and being active in high school.
Asking Myself Hard Questions
After I started working, I continued questioning what options I could take that would bring about a satisfaction for my heart. My best friend was joining the Army, and she wanted to me join with her. But I was not interested in that path.
So, I had to start asking myself hard questions. I needed to ask someone to be my spiritual director. Yes, of course, she was a Sister of Mercy. That is when I began the journey toward Mercy.
I worked as a pharmacy tech at a nearby hospital, and my hours changed often. But, whenever I was able, I would go to the grade school to work with the students. I traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, with a group of young women who were going for retreat. That is when I learned the full story of the Sisters of Mercy, and I gained more knowledge about Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy. I was beginning to understand where the sisters’ joy and compassion came from! Catherine and Jesus were their source of happiness.
In the early 1970s in the United States, women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians and other marginalized people were continuing their fight for equality. Many Americans joined the protest against the ongoing war in Vietnam. I witnessed my brother leaving for and coming home from Vietnam, and I could not understand our option for war. A friend with whom I was extremely close in high school lost her husband in this same war. This time also marked the beginning of the war on drugs. Sisters continued to be involved with the many issues that were surrounding the environment, and they continually called for respecting the dignity of every human being. I saw women of faith, Sisters of Mercy, educating others about these issues. I knew, once again, that my values were connected to these women of courage and joy.
Finally Saying “Yes”
I began my active journey toward Mercy when I finally said “yes” on January 16, 1977. I moved to Omaha to continue my involvement along the path of taking final vows. I was learning about the woman I had seen in pictures for years, and I felt empowered to carry out Catherine McAuley’s Acts of Mercy to the world.
I began to “make real” the joy and courage I had witnessed for so long. On August 22, 1986, I made my life commitment to the Sisters of Mercy! My motto engraved in my ring is Micah 6:8—“act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.” God had asked me to live this merciful life, and I have based my life values on this ability to act with justice, to love others as Jesus would and to never stray from my relationship with my God. These words have been my focus for the past 30 years. I am ever learning how to live my life more deeply with embodying these words into action as I minister in God’s name.
I have been blessed to have been able to do the following ministries: teach high school theology, work at a peace and justice office, work with people out of jail/prison, provide treatment for addictions, provide treatment for offenders of domestic violence and walk with the homeless who struggle with mental illness and addiction. These are all persons who are struggling to move from invisibility to being visible within our society.
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Mercy in the World
What keeps me in Mercy, besides my call from God, is our ability to minister to those with the greatest need. As Mercy in the world, we are to be attentive to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In other words, we are to speak out for justice for/with all persons and demand dignity. We also work to ensure the dignity of immigrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking and stand in solidarity with all who suffer oppression. We strive to act in harmony and interdependence with all creation. We oppose racism in all its forms and address it within the communities where we live and work. We work for equality of women, celebrating their contributions, advocating for their rights and speaking out against gender discrimination in the Church and society. And we promote peace in families, communities, businesses and among nations.
I believe in living out my vows within the context of community – with others who believe that we are making a difference in the world. We are a vibrant sign of the Gospel’s values, which began at our baptism to put love into action. Prayer and ministry are two-fold, manifesting us toward the interconnectedness of God and Catherine. Our prayer calls us to respond to the needs of the world and our ministry leads us back to God. This is contemplation and action that surrounds every Sister of Mercy that you meet—never forgetting the joy and compassion!