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Local Mercy Community Sets Direction Elects New Leadership

Merion, PA - Sister of Mercy Mary Waskowiak, President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, compared leadership to the story of Exodus in Scripture that took the Israelites on a long journey across the desert.

"It's the story of who is in charge, and it's certainly not the leaders," she said April 8 to laughter among participants at the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Assembly at the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany, N.J. About 500 sisters representing portions of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania participated in their Governance Assembly to pray, to discern a direction for the next five years and choose new leadership.

Elected to five-year terms were President Patricia Vetrano, RSM, Vice-President Kathleen Keenan, RSM, and leadership team members, Catherine Darcy, RSM, Honora Nicholson, RSM, and Patricia Smith, RSM.

Their terms begin on July 1. Three of the Sisters on the leadership team are from Philadelphia, Vice-President Sister Kathleen Keenan, RSM, Sister Honora Nicholson, RSM, and Sister Patricia Smith, RSM. Since 1999, Sister Kathleen has served as senior vice president of mission and sponsorship at Mercy Health System. Prior to that, she ministered at Mercy Health Corporation and Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital as vice-president of missions and values. Earlier in her ministry, she taught at St. Michael the Archangel School in Levittown, PA, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Philadelphia, and St. Philip Neri School in East Greenville, PA. She also served as principal at Holy Martyrs School, Oreland, PA.

Sister Honora Nicholson, RSM, currently serves on the Mid-Atlantic Community leadership team. Prior to that, she served in leadership for the Merion Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy which became part of the Mid-Atlantic Community in 2006. Sister Honora served as school minister of Merion Mercy Academy in Merion for five years and campus minister at Gwynedd-Mercy College for six years. She also was a pastoral assistant at St. Francis Xavier Parish in New York City for six years. Early in her ministry, she taught at St. Denis School in Havertown for five years.

Sister Patricia Smith, RSM, currently serves as the principal of Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion, PA. Prior to that, she was principal at St. Barbara's School in Philadelphia for five years and vice-principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel for four years. She also taught at Maternity BVM, St. Denis, St. Raymond's and St. Malachy's.

In her talk on a day when sisters were discerning new leaders, Sister Waskowiak cited humility, inspiration, learning from experiences and the need to be contemplative and qualities for good leadership.

"The school of leadership is a holy, human experience," she said. Looking at her audience, she asked, "Aren't we lucky to be called to Mercy?"

Sister of Mercy Sister Margaret Farley, PhD, challenged assembly participants on April 6 at the Mid-Atlantic Assembly to be examples of forgiveness and live a crucified love that, tried by fire, survives and enables us to lay down our lives for others.

"Every great love is a crucified love,"said Sister Farley in a keynote talk on April 6 titled, "Mercy Under the Sign of the Cross and Resurrection." She said Jesus and Catherine McAuley, Sister of Mercy foundress, were examples of those who lived that love.

"It holds steady and strong no matter what must be borne; no matter what failings must  be overcome, accepted or forgiven; not matter what limits are experienced in day-to-day living and working together; no matter what threatens from external forces," she said.

A member of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community, Sister Farley is an ethicist and professor emerita at the Yale Divinity School. She co-founded the All-Africa Conference, a project intended to bring together African women religious to develop strategies for responding to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In a wide-ranging keynote address, Sister Margaret addressed situations in society, the church and Mercy community. She said many in the Community are aging, but, paraphrasing the words of Mark Twain when his obituary was prematurely published, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.

Referencing a quote from theologian Karl Rahner, she said, "Not everyone gets to live into old age, but for anyone who does, it must be part of their vocation."

She said many sisters still have much to do regarding relationships and ministries

Sister Margaret described forgiveness as the most important Spiritual Work of Mercy. She called participants to a model of ministry rooted in John's gospel in which Jesus says, "As God has loved me, so I have loved you; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another."

"This is the model for love and for the deeds of love. It is a model not of hierarchy and subordination, but of equality and mutuality," she said.  "Forgive. If not you, then who else."

Also on April 6, participants at Assembly enjoyed a visit from Sr. Frances Warde who was portrayed in a one-act play by Lisa Bansavage, a local actress. Warde came to Pittsburgh from Ireland in 1854 to start the first Sisters of Mercy community in the United States. Standing beside a writing desk on which was placed a ceramic teapot and cup, Bansavage captured the spirit of Frances with a mix of humor, thoughtfulness and a touch of an Irish brogue.

At a Mass of the Holy Spirit on April 8 the Sisters who were gathered began their process for the election of new leaders. Sister Christine McCann, current President of the Mid-Atlantic Community, presided at the election.  Building on the Assembly theme--Passion, Purpose, Promise--Sister Christine reminded the Sisters, "It is in the promise of the Spirit that we will elect new leaders whom we will call to animate our passion for mercy and lead us in our shared purpose. Our affirmation of them is a promise of our love and support."

In her closing remarks at the Assembly, newly-elected President Sister Patricia Vetrano remarked,  "Together we are on a sacred journey standing on holy ground, doing holy work. We live in hope and look forward to all that we will become. Let us dream our future together."

Portions of the assembly were webcast to groups of sisters who were unable to attend in person.

The Sisters of Mercy are an international religious community of Roman Catholic women who help people who are poor, sick, and in need of education, especially women and children. In the Mid-Atlantic Community, which encompasses the states of New York, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 sisters and 900 associates continue the work of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, by serving God by committing their lives and resources to helping people in need and changing unjust systems.

Sisters from the Mid-Atlantic Community serve in ministries in 20 states in the United States and in two countries in South America by helping people in need and serving them with Mercy and compassion. For more information, visit Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community.

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