Address by Sr Berneice Loch RSM, Newly elected leader of the Sisters of Mercy

Sr Berneice Loch RSM, the newley-elected leader of the Sisters of Mercy addresses the congregation at St Mary's Cathedral

Sr Berneice Loch RSM is the newly-elected Leader of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea

The Foundation Eucharist of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, December 18, 2011

Your Eminence. I thank you for your hospitality in hosting Sisters of Mercy and our many friends and guests here at this gathering today. I rather thought being called to lead a group of over 900 religious women was a daunting task, but right now, addressing such a huge gathering in this cathedral seems hardly less daunting. So I’ll keep it brief.

I woke up this morning thinking ‘why on earth did we do this?’ The answers are of course quite complex, but I realised that I would like to share some few thoughts on the answers with you here today.

There were many reasons for us to consider reconfiguring our former congregations. Not all of them could have provided the passion and energy that it took to make the decision and then to implement it. As Nerida said, we spent many years considering those questions and some Mercy groups had been working on those same questions for years before the rest of us started.

For those of us who decided to form one new Mercy Institute, the dawning of which we are celebrating today, we have needed our convictions to keep us motivated through the year of preparation just ended, so I’ll just mention a few of the drivers.

There is among us a renewed sense of God’s divine revelation through the whole of the universe. It calls us to a deeper awareness of our connectedness with all other persons and also with all else that God has created. We feel called to image this awareness in our new configuration of unity among great diversity.

Many questions about religious life and our Church are being asked in our times, about how it is evolving and changing, about new ways in which people are being called to a deep relationship with God expressed in service. The wisdom of many helps us in the exploration. How will we be together in religious communities in the years ahead? And I thank Archbishop Wilson for talking about the way in which Catherine had to discern how her way of being. We are already experiencing among us, I believe, a renewed sense of our call and a new determination to stay with the questions as we contemplate the wisdom that is shared among the many.

Another imperative is the way in which we interpret our call to be among those invited to be part of God’s mission of mercy to our world. We need to relate more effectively to others who are also called to serve God’s mission of Mercy. And coming together ourselves seems to make that more possible for those of us who have made this choice.

Wherever we are we find ourselves among others who clearly share the call to God’s mission of mercy whether or not they are called also to religious life. So together we are committed to finding new avenues of mutual support that will benefit the mission.

In working on our vision statement the past few days, there was among the groups engaged in the task a deep concern about the vast extent of displacement in our world: displacement within individuals who have suffered various forms of trauma; the far more obvious ways of displaced people – economic and political refugees among them; displacement experienced in environmental devastation and change.

Making a response calls for local action and always will. But to make a difference we need also to work for change at national and international levels. Sisters of Mercy internationally have a presence in United Nations circles and we hope our renewed capacity will help us all to be a more effective part of those networks. Any informed observer will note the ageing and diminishment in numbers among us, but this is not of itself a basis for reconfiguring, and nor is it addressed by reconfiguring. But what is truly remarkable is the enormous energy and enthusiasm that surfaces among us as we gather, irrespective of age. Our younger women are fewer in number than in past times and as they come together from across the former groups their renewed energy and hope will provide a special dynamism.

Sisters of Mercy groups in Australia and Papua New Guinea have a strong sense of connectedness and immersion in their local communities. This will continue and be enriched as we assume a wider identity of sisterhood across these two countries, and also where our sisters are in other places – East Timor and around the world.

There are many ways to live out a call to mercy. Our new Institute is committed to working co-operatively with other Sisters of Mercy groups here in Australia and Papua New Guinea and throughout the world.

We have much to learn about how to be what we have pledged ourselves to be. We very much appreciate the support and prayers of those of you who have gathered to be with us today, especially those who have travelled long, long distances to be here. And I am of course, very mindful of our international visitors, whom Nerida welcomed before Mass.

We are also very mindful of those who cannot actually be here with us, but who are keeping us in their minds, hearts and prayers wherever they are.

Annette, Sally, Barbara, Theresia and I appreciate the support we have experienced from so many sources. We know that women throughout the new Institute have every intention of being part of leading the new, and together we can do this new thing to which we feel called. I can promise you we will make the most of the opportunity we now have to contribute to a world in which the love and mercy of God is better known and experienced.

I’d like to finish with just a short quote from our constitutions:

“Our gift as Sisters of Mercy is to know God’s loving kindness and to share it with others. Our name reminds us that God can be mercy for others through us only when we open ourselves to receive God’s mercy”.

Thank you all for the mercy you show us.