Informal groups of associates began to form in the 1980s but Associates of Mercy in Ireland had its formal beginnings in the 1990s. Outline structures were put in place though groups were encouraged to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and define their own identity and character. Over time they clarified their identity around prayer, meaning in life, companionship and mutual support.
The nature of association is not closed and holds possibility for new forms. Though Catherine McAuley and her followers gave a specific form and direction, mercy or compassion is broader than the Mercy congregation and this rapidly changing age calls out for different forms and directions. Time commitments need to be flexible too, as monthly meetings suit some but not all and less frequent/more-involved meetings may be an option for others.
At present, the norm is a monthly meeting of about an hour's duration and an annual general meeting of all groups.
Wherever seedlings of a charism take root, they need to be nurtured and cultivated. So if you are a Sister of Mercy and feel called to start a group of Mercy Associates in your area or know someone who may like to become an associate, contact your Provincial team or an Associate director and you will be put in touch with people who will support and guide you.
The following is an account of one group of associates in the Northern Province, Ireland.
What is a Circle of Mercy?
A Circle of Mercy in the Northern Province is the coming together of compassionate people from different walks of life, who wish to live the gospel according to the spirit of Catherine McAuley in today's world.
In this new relationship of Mercy, the emphasis in on equality of the members. From the outset, laywomen as well as Sisters of Mercy were involved in the development of the concept. Another distinguishing feature of the 'Circle of Mercy' is that numbers are small, the suggested number being 8-10 members - allowing for maximum participation in sharing. Where more people are interested we advise the formation of a second local circle rather than increase the existing numbers.
Leadership of the local 'Circle of Mercy' meeting is rotated.
|To "explore the creation of a wider Mercy family" the Circle of Mercy was set up in 2005 with the help of Sisters from the Northern Province. It is the coming together of compassionate people from different walks of life who, with Sisters of Mercy, wish to live the gospel according to the spirit of Catherine McAuley.
Its aim is to enable one other to come closer to God, to deepen our understanding of an integrated spirituality, to grow in compassion so as to respond with loving kindness to the needs around us.
Members agree to promote the Mercy Charism in accordance with their calling in life. They meet once a month.
The core values of the 'Circle of Mercy' are:
The first year is devoted to reflection on the life and ministry of Catherine McAuley. After this, members are invited to enter into a period of discernment to see if God is calling them to this new relationship in Mercy. Those who feel that this is right for them then make a commitment for one year, to their local 'Circle of Mercy'. Each circle then takes on a life of its own and a variety of expressions of Mercy emerge. There are 14 such Circles of Mercy up and running throughout the Northern Province, involving approximately 100 members and it is a delight to see the flourishing diversity of Mercy life. 5 more groups are in the preparation stage.
In the interest of shared leadership, each member of the Core Group is linked with 2-3 local circles, and representatives of the local circles meet with the Core Group several times during the year for sharing of ideas and forward planning.