Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

Synopsis

When the Sisters of Mercy lost their foundress Sister Catherine McAuley in 1841, stories of Mother Catherine passed from one generation of sisters to the next. McAuley's Rule and Constitutions along with her spiritual writings and correspondence communicated the Mercys' founding charism. Eachgeneration of Sisters of Mercy who succeeded her took these words and her spirit with them as they established new communities or foundations across the United States and around the world. In Women of Faith, Mary Beth Fraser Connolly traces the paths of the women who dedicated their lives to the Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community, the first Congregation of Catholic Sisters in Chicago.More than the story of the institutions that defined the territory and ministries of the women of this Midwestern region, Women of Faith presents a history of the women who made this regional community, whether as foundresses of individual communities in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois in thenineteenth and early twentieth centuries or as the teachers, nurses, and pastoral ministers who cared for and educated generations of Midwestern American Catholics. Though they had no immediate connection with McAuley, these women inherited her spirit and vision for religious life.Focusing on how the Chicago Mercys formed a community, lived their spiritual lives, and served within the institutional Catholic Church, this three-part perspective addresses community, spirituality, and ministry, providing a means by which we can trace the evolution of these women of faith as theworld around them changed. The first part of this study focuses on the origins of the Sisters of Mercy in the Midwest from the founding of the Chicago South Side community in 1846 through the amalgamation and creation of the Chicago Province in 1929. The second part examines how the Mercys cametogether as one province through the changes of Vatican II from 1929 to the 1980s. Part III examines life after the dramatic changes of Vatican II in the 1990s and 2000s.Presenting rich examples of how faith cannot be separated from identity, Women of Faith provides an important new contribution to the scholarship that is shaping our collective understanding of women religious.

Excerpt

We have one solid comfort amidst this little tripping about: our hearts can al
ways be in the same place, centered in God
for whom alone we go forwardor
stay back. Oh may He look on us with love and pity, and then we shall be able
to do anything He wishes us to do
no matter how difficult to accomplishor
painful to our feelings. If He looks on us with approbation for one instant each
day
it will be sufficient to bring us joyfully on to the end of our journey. Let us
implore Him to do so at this season of love and Mercy
.

On December 20, 1840, Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland, wrote Sister Mary de Sales White at the Bermondsey convent in London, England, saying, “I think sometimes our passage through this dear sweet world is something like the Dance called ‘right and left.’” She continued with a description of the dance, incorporating the locations of various Mercy convents in Ireland and England with each turn on the dance floor. McAuley used a metaphor of a dance to stress to Sister Mary de Sales the temporality of the Sisters of Mercy in the world. She wrote, “You and I have crossed over, changed places; your set is finished— for a little time you’ll dance no more—but I have now to go through the figure.” Each Sister of Mercy had her part to play in the dance, but no single sister was more important than the whole movement; as one Sister of Mercy remains behind, another goes forward into the world. Mother Catherine continued her letter in a more pointed tone and described her community’s evolving life and movement throughout the world as “this little tripping about” where only with God’s help and will did they act. When she wrote this letter in late 1840, McAuley did not know how her community would grow and flourish throughout the world; she could only rely on one essential component to all the works of mercy she and other members of her community did: Wherever they went, their hearts were “centered in God.”

McAuley’s writings stand as her legacy to the generations of women religious who came after her. As Mary C. Sullivan, rsm, has shown . . .

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