Unable to attract novices, Sisters of Mercy begin merging communities
Photo at left: Sister of Mercy makes her temporary profession.
Faced with aging nuns and few new vocations, the 175-year-old Sisters of Mercy religious order – with six communities in California -- has decided to undergo a major reorganization.
The “shrinking and aging of the order” is one factor that brought about the restructuring of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, reported the April 11 Catholic San Francisco, the weekly newspaper of the San Francisco archdiocese.
The Institute’s six California communities will merge with communities in the West and Midwest into an Omaha, Nebraska-based organization called the West Midwest Community. The restructuring was approved at a meeting in Chicago, March 24-30, and will take effect July 1.
The new organization will bring together 861 Sisters of Mercy and 525 associates. The Institute itself, covering the Americas, Guam, and the Philippines, numbers 4,194 sisters and 2,800 associates. The average age of sisters in the institute is 73.
Though the vocations office has “been very active across the Institute,” Liz Dossa, spokeswoman for the Mercy Sisters in Burlingame told Catholic San Francisco, its efforts have not been fruitful. The number of candidates, novices, and temporary professed in the West-Midwest Community is four, though “several women” are in the process of joining, Catholic San Francisco reported.
“The whole question of changes in religious life is huge, and there don’t seem to be any easy solutions,” Dossa told the archdiocesan newspaper. “I think the Mercy community will be a smaller community targeted to needs that aren’t being met in other ways.”
Among the needs to which the Mercy Sisters have been dedicated over the years are education, health care, parish work, spiritual direction, and social services. The ministries the Burlingame community has been involved in include Mercy High Schools, Catholic Healthcare West, and Mercy Center.
A “progressive” Catholic community, the Burlingame sisters were listed in Call to Action’s 1999 “Church Renewal Directory,” as among groups that “support the spirit of Call To Action’s 1990 ‘Call for Reform in the Catholic Church.’” Call to Action, which calls for women’s ordination and for Church acceptance of artificial birth control and the normalcy of homosexuality, has five regional chapters in Northern and Southern California.
The Mercy Retreat Center in Auburn, a ministry of the Auburn Sisters of Mercy, has in the past four years offered retreats by feminist theologian Edwina Gatelyon on the “feminine divine,” looking at “the history of God as Mother,” and by Sacred Heart Missionary Diarmuid O’Murchu on “the new cosmology.” O’Murchu’s retreat addressed replacing “the patriarchal sky-God with the divine life-force we encounter in the miracle of God’s creation.”