By Boreta Singleton, Mercy Associate
I am an African-American “cradle Catholic.” Although my history within the Catholic Church as a woman of African descent has been complicated and at times painful, I know that I am “home” when I am present at liturgical celebrations, sitting with a spiritual directee at my parish or a retreat house, and in my own ministry as a Catholic educator and administrator for the past 35 years.
I have sometimes felt challenged by the reality that Catholic institutions do not always recognize the gifts and talents of the ethnically and racially diverse people among them. I have always attended Catholic schools, from grade 1 to graduate school. Those institutions are made up of mostly white Catholics. It has been difficult to be recognized as an equal—one who is not only just as Catholic as my white counterparts but also one who possesses similar gifts of ministerial leadership. Although I have known the Sisters of Mercy for almost my entire life, I did not attend their schools. However, I feel as though my first encounter with a Sister of Mercy points directly to their charism as expressed through the words of Catherine McAuley in her Familiar Instructions: “Let charity be our badge of honor … so that it may truly be said, there is in us but one heart and one soul in God.”
My grandmother was hospitalized in the what is now the Mercy Catholic Medical Center (then Misericordia Hospital) in Philadelphia when I was in first grade. In the 1960s, children were not permitted to visit patients in their rooms. My mother left me in the waiting area, promising to return in a few minutes. Shortly after she left, I began to cry. I was more upset about not being able to see my grandmother than about being left alone. In seconds, there was a Sister of Mercy in her white habit and cape at my side. She asked me why I was crying, and dried my tears with her handkerchief. She asked my grandmother’s name and disappeared, promising to return. She did so almost immediately and said to me, “You must be very quiet. I am going to cover you with my cape and we will go up to see your grandmother. You can give her a kiss and hug, and then we will have to come back downstairs, okay?” I was thrilled just to see her! Sister let me stay for about 5 minutes, then assured my mother that she would sit with me and not to worry about rushing to get me. My grandmother died the next day, and that beautiful memory of sister’s charity is etched in my memory. Sister saw a need and responded. Isn’t that what the Gospels call us to do?
Over the years, I have been blessed to have friends in the Sisters of Mercy as well as Mercy Associate friends and have served as a co-facilitator of the Institute’s Anti-Racism Transformation Team. I said yes to this opportunity because I know that the sisters take seriously the ongoing call of Christ to eradicate racism within ourselves and our institutions. In my preparation for this work in 2017, I felt the need to know more about the life of Catherine McAuley and her ministry in the Church. I was so inspired by her life story and the works of Mercy that she began that I decided to become a Mercy Associate in 2018. The ministries that Catherine began and those that continue with the presence of the Sisters of Mercy, their Companions and Associates help me to feel “at home” in the Church, for Catherine listened and responded to the Spirit. She was not afraid to reach out to those who are often excluded, just as Jesus did.
The sisters’ commitment to “reading the signs of the times” makes me feel, in the words of a familiar song, that “We shall overcome some day.” We will overcome because the works of the Mercy Sisters, Companions and Associates are building the Kingdom of God!
Boreta Singleton is a Mercy Associate and director of faculty formation at St. Peter’s Prep High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is a spiritual director and loves to sing so much that she belongs to three groups: her parish choir (St. Francis Xavier, Manhattan), The Ignatian Schola, a New York-based group that sings for Jesuit celebrations, and Choral Chameleon, a semi-professional New York City-based chorus. She lives in the Bronx.