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How a road trip in Honduras turned me into a Mercy Associate

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By Jeremy Dickey, Communications Manager

“Have you ever thought about becoming a Mercy Associate?”

She couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, but Sister Mary Ellen Brody is the reason that, on Foundation Day (December 12, 2019), I officially made my covenant with the Sisters of Mercy and became a Mercy Associate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As is often the case, there’s more to the story.

I have always thought of myself as a religious person, but in recent years I’ve been longing to nourish my spirituality. To put it another way, if you’re familiar with the Nuns and Nones or Sisters and Seekers movement, you’ll understand that while I’m not quite a “none,” I’m definitely a “seeker.”

As a lay employee of the Sisters of Mercy, I’ve always known that Mercy Associates were a “thing” but didn’t, until this year, fully grasp the very distinct bond between Sisters, Associates and the Mercy charism.

For those unfamiliar, Mercy Associates are lay people who are called to a life of prayer and service and make a formal covenant to respond to Mercy as best they can in their everyday lives. Although the Association movement within the Catholic Church spread rapidly throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, never hesitated to collaborate with laity in the early days of her mission in Mercy, in Dublin in the 1830s.

Demographically, I am very much an association outlier. As a 20-something, as a man, as someone not overly practicing my religion, I am probably the least likely person to even consider it.

But this past winter and spring, I began taking a contemplative look at what inspires me—both personally and professionally—and taking stock of what makes me happy, what doesn’t, and what in my life needs work. As I stand on the cusp of 30, I wondered how to cultivate the best version of myself for the next chapter of my life.

In doing so, I kept coming to the same realization: I want to find ways to nourish my religious spirituality, enhance my opportunities for service to others, and create more community in my life. These all pointed me in the direction of Mercy Association, but still I hesitated.

And then, in late March 2019, I took part in a “reverse caravan” to Honduras with 75 faith leaders to explore the root causes of migration to the United States. Not only did we see first-hand the realities on the ground in a country where many of our sisters and associates minister, but it was on this trip that I met Sister Mary Ellen.

During a three hour, twisty, cramped, car ride to Tegucigalpa, Sister Mary Ellen and I talked and talked (and talked), as others napped. She wanted to know everything about me, and I wanted to know everything about her.

“Where did you go to college?”

Mercyhurst University.

“Why did you come work for the Sisters of Mercy?”

I wanted to be part of something greater than myself and to do good, meaningful work.

“Are you dating anyone?”

No…(insert here awkward laughter my friends and family are all too familiar with)

“Where do you find peace in your day?”

Without hesitation, I shared that I start each day with this thought: May I have even an ounce of the goodness and kindness that my late great grandmother Helen had.

Many people would have been thrown off by this rapid-fire questioning from a near stranger, but I found it comforting—and not just because it took my mind off my car sickness. In a way, it felt like conversation between long-time friends. I wasn’t the only one answering questions, either. Sister Mary Ellen told me about her time in Honduras, her own path to becoming a Sister of Mercy, and her family—of whom she spoke fondly and with an enormous smile.

Blog post author Jeremy Dickey (left), with other new Associates Helen Penberthy, Marianne Comfort and Elsa Valdiviezo

And finally, at the end of our talk, as we were making our descent into Tegucigalpa, Sister Mary Ellen asked the one question that no other sister had asked me before.

“Have you ever thought about becoming a Mercy Associate?”

The truth is I had thought about it but had never been invited by a sister to seriously explore it. Sister Mary Ellen’s gentle push—in the form of an invitation—was the validation and confirmation that I needed, and a month later, with three colleagues, two Mercy Associates and Sister Cynthia Serjak guiding us, I began pre-associate formation.

And just like that, all the seeking and questioning made sense.

I am immensely grateful to Sister Mary Ellen for her initial nudge. And to anyone still wondering what their nudge toward Mercy Association might be, I encourage you to not simply wait for an invitation, but to reach out and explore this calling further.

There’s no denying that I’m a statistical outlier in association. I’m a young man who is now bonded with an order of Catholic women. But I am so much more. I am a seeker—of graced spirituality, of service to others, of belonging to a community—and I know I am not alone in my search.