Who is Catherine for Me?
By Associate Kristen S.
It is impossible to find one word that encapsulates the essence of Catherine McAuley. She had so many important qualities. She loved Jesus, really understood what He wanted us to do for others, and demonstrated that by her acts of mercy. She was articulate, magnetic, charismatic and savvy. How else could a woman of her time accomplish all that she did in such a short period of time? Even following her death, her message continues to resonate with so many and her mission lives on thanks to the work and dedication of the generous people who work in the many Mercy ministries worldwide.
I have been so blessed to have been educated by the Sisters of Mercy from 7th grade at St. Mary Academy Bay View, an all-girls K-12 school in East Providence, Rhode Island, and through college at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. Along the way, I “met” Catherine so many times via the Sisters whose calling was to bring the world to my attention, locally and globally, and ask the important questions of me such as: “What can you offer? What can you bring to help this situation?” Thanks to the wonderful and loving Sister Katherine Murphy, RSM who introduced me to special education, I graduated and felt I had found my calling….to educate children with disabilities. Her stories of working in Bethesda, Maryland, and pioneering Public Law 94-142 inspired me in such a profound way. It was my passion until I married and had two children of my own and I found myself searching for Catherine McAuley again. One day while at Bay View, I was invited to join a group of parents called the McAuley Parents. They met monthly and talked about Catherine McAuley and looked at the many ministries in the area. They did Works of Mercy as a group for folks in their school community and in the community at large. I decided to accept that invitation. I thought maybe this was the answer to the searching I had been doing for something more in my life. I felt I was so blessed and needed to give back somehow. Surely if there was a way, the sisters would know! That was a turning point in my life. The sisters that moderated that group were Sister Fran Lynch, RSM, and Sister Barbara Riley, RSM, and they are the two people who truly are living examples of Catherine McAuley for me. The McAuley Parents’ Group would be the first of many adventures we would share. They took me to McAuley House, McAuley Village and the Warde-Robe. All three ministries tend to those in need in Rhode Island. McAuley House is a hot meal site and house of hospitality on the south side of Providence, Rhode Island. They not only provide a hot meal restaurant-style as opposed to cafeteria-style, they also provide social service and extracurricular activities like art therapy for their guests, many of whom are homeless. McAuley Village, also located in Providence provides transitional housing for women and children who find themselves homeless. The goal of the village is to help the women learn the skills they need and make the connections necessary to find employment and ultimately become independent members of their community. Finally, the Warde-Robe provides gently used clothing and household goods at a reduced price to the working poor of the area. The sisters introduced me to the wonderful folks who minister to the communities there and, before I knew it, I was on the Mission Integration Committee for the three ministries and later joined the Board of Trustees. Working around all of these dedicated professionals and amazing guests/residents spoke to me in a way that allowed me for the first time ever to feel like I was finally responding to the call that I had heard so long ago at Bay View. For that I am forever grateful. The next step for me was Association and again Sister Fran and Sister Barbara were there to encourage and sponsor me through the entire process. It occurred to me on the day I made my covenant with the Sisters, that one of the GREATEST gifts Catherine possessed was her ability to match a person who had a gift or talent with someone who was in need of that gift or talent. Sister Fran and Sister Barbara were able to see in me what I could not and guide me to a life that is fuller and has more meaning than I could have ever imagined.
This past weekend (Sept 15-16) I again had the privilege of seeing another one of their endeavors come to fruition as we commissioned 40 5th grade students from three local Mercy elementary schools: Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, St. Mary Academy Bay View in East Providence, Rhode Island, and Mercymount Country Day in Cumberland, Rhode Island, as official Friends of Mercy. The students started on a one-year journey last October as they learned about the history of the Sisters of Mercy and their founder Catherine McAuley. We talked with the children about the work the Sisters, Associates and Companions do around the world. They even sent Christmas cards to the children of Casa Corazon de la Misericordia, a ministry in Honduras that cares for orphaned babies/children living with HIV/AIDS, founded and sponsored by the Sister of Mercy. They learned about the importance of taking care of the Earth and started a recycling program in their school. They read weekly Catherine quotes to their schoolmates over the intercom and helped design a logo that would best represent their group. This year, as 5th graders, the newly commissioned Friends of Mercy will mentor the incoming group of 4th graders and begin to teach about Catherine themselves. Here again was another way Sister Fran and Sister Barbara were living like Catherine. They had an idea about association for younger students connected with folks who would feel as passionately as they did and put the plan into motion, just as Catherine so bravely put her plan into motion so many years ago. These Sisters are fearless, passionate and full of hope and love–a mirror of the woman they hold so close to their hearts. THAT is what Catherine means to me!