A From the Institute Leadership Team
Dear Sisters, Mercy Associates and Companions in Mercy, The poet David Whyte believes we are constantly making home too small for ourselves. He says, “On the homeward journey we take shelter for awhile and then we forget the very path before our door.” In our time, we are being nudged to step out of our doors and learn new skills for the unknown journey of the twenty-ﬁrst century. What will it take to move beyond what is familiar, what we have become accustomed to and settled into? Could we look for guides in our own members who daily risk seeking new homes and offering fresh responses to the needs of this time and place? What do our wisdom ﬁgures want to say to us as Mercy seeks its place in a world and church undergoing massive disruption.
THE INSTITUTE LEADERSHIP TEAM (FRONT): SISTERS MARY WASKOWIAK AND ANNE CURTIS. (BACK): SISTERS EILEEN CAMPBELL, LINDA WERTHMAN AND PAT MCDERMOTT.
Join Our Conversation We invite you to offer your feedback on the the member area of www.sistersofmercy.org, by telephone, mail and in personal interactions with us. A discussion board is available on the member area of the website for sharing your comments.
Reimagining ourselves in a reconﬁgured Institute brings us face to face and heart to heart with what “home” means. Jesus invites potential followers to come and see where he lives. Jesus also says that he has no permanent place on which to lay his head. By the profession of our vows we commit ourselves to make our home only in God and together love one another and serve those most in need. Two recent decisions can bring new understandings of home and its geography of land, heart and identity. In August 2007 the congregational leaders of Mercy International Association voted to expand the House of Mercy at Baggot Street. What we have known as Mercy International Centre will eventually include Catherine’s original House of Mercy and the building around the corner on Herbert Street. New staff will be hired to focus Mercy efforts on the U.N. Millennial Goal to eradicate global poverty. Catherine’s expanded home will continue to invite us in for inspiration as well as mission us out to address the root causes and local manifestations of poverty worldwide. In November 2007 the ILT decided to continue to locate the U.S. novitiate in Laredo, Texas. After a thorough review and consultation process the choice of Laredo seems both the best ﬁt for the values and goals of the novitiate and a call to all of us to consider how our personal and communal lives might better demonstrate that which we describe in our Constitutions, Direction Statement and recent Chapter Acts. We must ask of women in the novitiate the same that we ask of more seasoned members; to be vibrant women of contemplation and action with a preoccupation to be among those who suffer poverty and loss of dignity. New dreams for Laredo might invite us to the novitiate home for inspiration and mission similar to that which we ﬁnd at Catherine’s home on Baggot Street. Our precious homes are indeed changing. What remains is our commitment to be centered in God as we serve a cruciﬁed Redeemer in a world of tremendous human and ecological suffering. What must we do? In Mercy,
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Blessed By Community I have been
gifted by and immersed in a variety of communities in my life. To be committed to living community means to become known by and come to know many different persons. Right there is the challenge that is offered us on a daily basis. While I have been overly blessed by many positive experiences, I would be remiss to imply that life is only bliss. Community is not only about the warm fuzzy moments. Community is about conversion and growth. Currently I live and minister in Louisville, Kentucky, but remain very connected with the Regional Community of Detroit. My affection for my regional community can be likened to my family bonds. Wherever I may travel, Detroit Mercy is in my bloodstream and therefore my heart. My Community has helped shape and “grow” me into who I am today… from my kindergarten years to the present. I moved to Louisville ten years ago while working in vocation ministry for the West Midwest New Membership Team. Covering the states of Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, I quickly became enamored of Day Spring, a residential community of adults with intellectual disabilities. While working in the area, I would stay with Sister Debbie Kern (Cincinnati), Day Spring’s executive director who has lived in its housing since its founding 14 years ago. She and the residents invited me to share community with them and I have been here ever since. Day Spring is synonymous with community. We
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share our lives very closely on a daily basis, and God’s grace has been dynamically operative in more ways than I can articulate. For the first time in my life, I feel that I have become known. My struggles with impatience, control issues and imperfection have become more integrated with some of the more positive gifts God has given me. That is a huge gift this community has offered me. For the past few years, my ministry at Spalding University, a small Catholic university sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, has also offered me an experience of community. I am privileged to work with students, faculty and staff who are focused upon addressing the injustices of our society at all levels. Through the support of those with whom I work, I have grown in my administrative, managerial and personal capacities. The Sisters of Mercy in Louisville (Regional Community of Cincinnati) have offered me a second Mercy home. I have become intimately involved in their daily lives and communal activities and have found rich friendships and support. I am now part of the collective Mercy “we” in Louisville. Of course there are struggles.
There are many times in which I desire to be less known by so many people. Being known is the greatest joy ... and fear ... of my heart. Being known means that my darker side is brought into the light. It is about realizing that a self-imposed definition of perfection is not what relationships or community is about. Being known is akin to the experience that Augustine once reflected: Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. As our Direction Statement states, “ We as Sisters of Mercy... call ourselves to continual conversion in our lifestyle and ministries.” It is my call to be open to the multi-faceted experiences of community available in my life at this moment and it is within this context that this continual conversion occurs. —Sister Rita Valade (Detroit)
Issues in the Spotlight As ¡Viva! Mercy enters its second year, we’d like to use our spotlight column for reﬂections on issues—not only around reimagining and reconﬁguring—but issues that impact our lives in Mercy. The issues are at times disparate but always unifying. If you’d like to suggest a spotlight topic or write an article, please contact Sister Pat Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Update Caribbean, Central America, South America T H E L E A D E R S H I P (Governance) Commission, coordinated by Sister Angelina Mitre (CCASA/Panama), is refining the final draft of the government plan to be presented for approval during CCASA’s inaugural Assembly in February. Sisters from Chile, Argentina and Honduras joined Sister Mary Waskowiak (Institute Leadership Team), members of the Mid-Atlantic Community and the sisters in Peru for the celebration of Sister Janet Fernandez’ perpetual vows on December 9. The work of the CCASA commissions continues with special emphasis on legal and financial planning. Local communities are developing budgets for 2008-2009 with the help of Sister Mary Kelly (Institute Integration Team) and financial coordinator, Patti Nisco.
Mid-Atlantic O N D E C E M B E R 3 1 , 2 0 0 7 , sisters and associates gathered in prayer at ten different sites to welcome the new year and celebrate the Community’s one year anniversary. In November, the leadership team asked for volunteers for the spiritual life, ministry fund and retirement advisory committees. The leadership team also announced the planning of a convocation to advance the development of the Mid-Atlantic Community. A committee of seven to 11 sisters will help plan this event to be held in Dallas, Pennsylvania, from July 8-12, 2009.
New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West (NyPPaW) T H E F I R S T O F T H E Y E A R marked the start of the New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community. Four regional communities—Buffalo, Erie, Pittsburgh, Rochester—
and the Philippines are now integrated into a community of about 500 Mercy sisters and associates. The Community Leadership Team (CLT) includes: Sister Nancy Hoff, president; Sister Patricia Prinzing, vice president; and councilors Sisters Jo Anne Courneen, Geraldine Rosinski and Guadalupe Lumantas. Recently, the CLT appointed local leaders for specific geographic areas who took office January 1, 2009. Appointed were Sister Mary Ann Schimscheiner, Buffalo; Sister Domenica DeLeo, Erie; Sister Marie Immaculee Dana, Pittsburgh; Sister Virgencita (Jen-jen) Alegado, Philippines; and Sisters Joyce McGinn and Carol Wulforst, Rochester.
ment weekend in February for potential candidates for South Central leadership. On December 5, the South Central presidents; Mary Trimmer, COO; and Donn Groene, CFO; welcomed Lois Artis, Institute Chief Financial Officer and Bryan Pini, Institute Chief Investment Officer for a Community orientation. The same group met with South Central finance officers to review requests for proposals on banking, compensation, technology and insurance. Database, the budgeting process and other reports were also discussed. The Joint Leadership Team will meet in February for a review and final approval of policies and procedures recommended by the task forces for inclusion in a South Central Members’ policy manual.
Northeast M O R E T H A N 5 0 0 participated in the
first round of Mercy Circles held earlier this year throughout the Community. In conversations, participants discussed the challenges and tensions of being in community as well as different experiences of community living; diversity of cultures; new ways of being community; fiscal responsibility and relationship to the church. Feedback on mission and ministry included the importance of responding to the needs of the time particularly in relation to environment, trafficking, immigration, world poverty, church structures/role of women, spirituality, co-ministry, collaboration for systemic change and sponsored ministries and the Mercy charism. The second round was held from October 27-November 17, 2007. South Central T H E S O U T H C E N T R A L Election Committee met in December to review and finalize the design process for a discern-
West Midwest A F T E R B E G I N N I N G their positions in November 2007, COO Kim Kinsel and CFO Carol J. Kelley attended the November meeting of the Community Leadership Teams (CLTs) in Burlingame, California. They also toured the headquarters of each regional community in November and December. In collaboration with the regional community leadership teams, Kim will begin to create an administrative structure for the Community; and Carol will establish a system for financial management at the local and Community levels. Those members nominated for WMW Community leadership positions met in Burlingame in January for a discernment weekend. Elections will take place during the WMW Assembly in March. During that meeting delegates will also affirm the WMW governance plan and the issues that will challenge the new leadership.
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On Practicing Faithful Citizenship I have many memories of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who taught at my parish elementary school in Omaha, Nebraska. We called them the “BVMs” and assumed their lives were confined to convent and classroom. But one day I saw the sisters walking two-by-two to the public school across the street. I asked my mother, “ Why are the sisters going to the public school?” And Mom responded, “ The sisters are going to vote.” I was so surprised. The sisters voted just like my parents and neighbors? Did they really know anything about political office? Did they care about national and state issues? How did voting fit with their lives as religious?
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The answers to those questions were lived out before me as I pursued my education and then entered religious life myself. The women religious I have met along the way cared about many things besides the convent and classroom. Catherine McAuley set an example of civic engagement for her sisters by her concern and involvement in the life of Dublin. She tried to address the root causes of the poverty and suffering she witnessed in the homes and streets of Ireland and to advocate with the powerful to change conditions that perpetuated injustice and inequality. The campaigns for the 2008 elections in the United States invite Institute members, associates, companions and volunteers to look at and beyond our countries through the lens of the 2005 Chapter’s Critical Concerns: immigration, Earth, racism, women’s equality and nonviolence. We recognize that votes cast by citizens of every country and territory address global issues: war, global warming, hunger and violence against women. The outcomes of every election affect us all. For example, the recent negotiations for Free Trade Agreements between the U.S., Peru and Panama will affect millions of people. These agreements include regulations on working conditions, the environment and price controls. In past agreements such as the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), goods imported from the U.S. have been sold at cheaper prices than goods produced locally. Local farmers have lost their land and had to look elsewhere for employment. Thus trade agreements have become a major cause of migration when people’s jobs are eliminated and they must move in order to survive. In preparation for the U.S. debates, primaries and elections, the Institute Justice Team prepared Election 2008: A Practical Resource (www.sistersofmercy.org/pressand resources/resources). The resource provides questions to consider around each of our Critical Concerns and facts to document the importance of the issues. The resource can be used as a journal for reflection or for taking notes while watching debates or reading articles. The resource can also be used for reflection discussion on universal social issues. —Sister Susan Severin (Institute Justice Team)
Resources • Voting the Common Good (Center of Concern): www.coc.org/election2008 • Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) www.usccb.org/faithfulciti zenship/FCStatement.pdf
Discovering ourselves in Scripture By William O’Brien
The Battle for the Bible—how we interpret and apply it to our lives and our world—has been waged for at least 2,000 years. History is replete with the casualties of that battle. The Word of God has been used as propagandistic fodder for slavery, subjugation of women, even ethnic cleansing. Yet that same Bible is profoundly life giving. Millions have been empowered by the biblical vision of justice, peace and human dignity. Sacred Scripture, sometimes wielded to oppress and exploit, has also inspired healing ministries and freedom movements. To open ourselves to the truth of the biblical revelation, we may need to unlearn much of what we’ve been taught. One of the obstacles in our reading of the Bible is individualism, perhaps the most pervasive and powerful force in American culture. As a bulwark of our political and economic systems it is a main ingredient in many of our values. While individualism is an outgrowth of the teaching on the dignity of each person bearing the divine image, it also fuels the alienating effects of consumer capitalism and quickens the deterioration of community.
Individualism functions as a filter for our interpretation of Scripture. Whether in private reading or even in communal worship, listeners usually hear the biblical text addressed to them personally and uniquely. They act as private consumers of the text, discerning its meaning for themselves and applying it to their lives. The Hebraic culture understood each individual as belonging to and fulfilled in a community. The radically individualized person apart from community would be an anomaly to the biblical mindset. The biblical writings are addressed to a community: in the Old Testament it was the Israelites; in the New Testament, the church. The narratives are part of a culture and history shared and shaped by a people. The commandments, teachings and liturgical practices make sense only within a covenant community with a common life. Certainly, each individual makes a personal choice to participate and respond but that choice is not separate from life in the community. The communal paradigm helps us overcome distortions in our reading of Scripture. The “hard sayings” of Jesus: “turn the other cheek,” “take no thought for what
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you are to eat or wear,” “leave your family” and “love your enemies” strike us as unrealistic. In fact, such teachings are absurd in the context of an individualist paradigm. But Jesus is imparting an ethic for a group of disciples who are to witness to the world, not as isolated persons, but as a community. We cringe when we hear the story of the rich man whom Jesus counsels to sell all his possessions (Mark 10:17-22). Only a handful of saints could ever do that. But this story is teaching a new way of communal economic sharing that Jesus insists is both practical and possible. Gospel economics are not a matter of heroic individualism but are rooted in ancient covenantal practices. The testimony of Paul has been particularly skewed by the individualist paradigm. Paul is reduced to nothing more than a theologian of personal salvation with a minimal and conservative social viewpoint. To the contrary, many contemporary biblical writers are illuminating the mission of Paul as a builder of communities very much rooted in a radical vision of Jesus, living by values that were subversive of imperial values in the dominant Greco-Roman culture around them. A second obstacle to biblical literacy is our tendency to over-spiritualize scriptural texts. Early Church doctrine was heavily influenced by Greek thinking which, unlike the holistic world view of the Hebrews in which the natural and divine were indivisible, tended toward a separation of spirit and matter. The undertow of this spiritual-material split led to a belief that the Christian life is primarily about the realm of the Spirit as opposed to our material, earthly life. Under the sway of this theology, church leaders stressed biblical texts as symbolic or allegorical. Biblical images drawn from ordinary human life and creation were read as pointing to “heavenly things” and matters of the soul. As a result, the overwhelming biblical testimony regarding matters of money, power, possessions, justice, violence and community relationships is often marginalized, allegorized away or rendered invisible. This over-spiritualizing of Scripture has often played into the hands of ecclesiastic powers. While urging their flocks to “obey” the Bible, these same powers could trample on biblical ethics, taking on secular trappings of hierarchy, wealth and princely supremacy while entreating the poor to look for “riches in heaven.” Jesus’ own prayer is instructive: “on earth as it is in heaven.” The complex narratives about covenant and kingship in the Hebrew Bible are not mere foreshadowings of the heavenly reign of Christ, but genuine struggles over power dynamics in human governance and community. Jesus’ parables, while yielding many textures of meaning, fundamentally address basic issues of land and food as
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expressions of God’s will. Jesus’ crucifixion, while theologically understood as part of God’s salvific plan, was also very clearly the execution by the state of a political rebel who challenged the status quo. Our Scriptural literacy is also compromised by limited familiarity with the whole biblical narrative. Many of us consume the Bible in fragments, even through the Lectionary. We know a few famous stories, some choice passages and quotes, but we are far less aware of how the revelation of Scripture functions as a whole. Such fragmentation causes us to interpret passages out of context. For instance, the famous story of “the widow’s mite,” (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4) is preached as a tale of heroic self-sacrifice. But when read in a broader context (Mark 12:38-13.2) and understanding the Torah commands to economically protect widows, it is clear that Jesus is excoriating the religious leadership for exploiting vulnerable widows. Preached once a year, extracted from its context, this widow is offered as a model to encourage giving to the church. In its context it is a condemnation of religion victimizing the powerless. Some allusions are less obvious. In the story of Jesus feeding the thousands in the desert we focus on the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. We fail to see what would have been starkly obvious to the early listeners. Stories of “feeding in the wilderness” explicitly evoke the Exodus 16 account of manna which is both a tale of divine provision and the beginning of divine instruction on economic principles and practice of the covenant community. By not understanding the cleanliness codes of Torah, we cannot grasp the full import and prophetic dimensions of Jesus’ healings, his table fellowship and his challenge to religious authorities. If we are serious about being biblical people, we must immerse ourselves in the whole Bible. We cannot afford to settle for a splintered version of God’s revelation. We must gain a fundamental understanding of the broad arc of the biblical story so we can be more open to the power of the biblical revelation in our lives. The good news is that communities of committed disciples around the world are gathering around Scripture and gleaning fresh meanings, new vision and profound relevance to the challenges of our times. May we be a part of that Good News! William O’Brien worked for several years on the editorial staff of The Other Side, an independent progressive Christian magazine. Since 1993 he has coordinated the Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also serves on the ¡Viva! Mercy editorial advisory board. Will can be reached at email@example.com
vocation and incorporation
I N C O R P O R AT I O N
Roles of Novices and Professed Sisters As we continue
to study and review our vocation and incorporation program in the United States “For the Love of Mercy,” examination of the incorporation section reveals the ways in which our lives can be transformed by reflecting on how we incorporate new members into the Institute. In developing the new program, we began by using the Constitutions to help us identify the critical elements of Mercy life: mission and service, prayer and spirituality, community and public vows. We then determined what new members would need to nurture these critical elements. During incorporation, new members dedicate significant time to developing relationships, learning, finding time for prayer, providing service and living in community. Their reflections on their experiences allow them the freedom they need to commit to taking perpetual vows. Incorporation is also a time of discernment for vowed sisters. Our role is to, “witness to the integrity of word and deed in their lives.” Relationships between newer members and professed sisters develop in candidacy through the sharing of the lived experience of being a Sister of Mercy, learning the traditions of Catherine McAuley and the Community and in participating in a variety of experiences through each stage of incorporation. As they enter the novitiate we are called to support them through
St. Louis Sisters Miriam Nolan and M. Dianne Ferguson spend some time reviewing the new vocation and incorporation program in the United States, “For the Love of Mercy.”
communication—asking about their experiences. This sharing and exchange enriches the lives of all sisters. During temporary profession, we can assist the newly professed in the integration of prayer, community and ministry, encouraging them and ourselves to continued growth in the living of the vows. Throughout the process we can offer our own gifts to assisting our incorporation ministers. The “local community” section of our new program serves as a reminder to us all to renew our call to commit to sharing skills for community living with new members. Even if we do not have new
members living in our midst, the values expressed in this section challenge us all to examine our community life and ask ourselves: Can we be a welcoming, hospitable and realistic environment for a woman to test her call? Am I willing to move into a community—to begin again and see what graces God has in store? To view the entire vocation and incorporation program, please visit http://www.sistersofmercy.org/voc ations/program. To share your thoughts, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. —Sister Carol Mucha (Institute New Membership Office)
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A Catholic Call
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to the Common Good
EXIA KELLE Y
ictor Hugo, the nineteenth century French writer, famously remarked that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The common good—a classic theme of moral and political philosophy with deep roots in Catholic social teaching—is an old idea that has found new life in contemporary political discourse. Rick Santorum, for example, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania and a Catholic, has written a book titled It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. His one-time opponent, Robert Casey, Jr., a Catholic and currently a Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, made the common good a defining theme in his campaign. Several 2008 presidential candidates including Senator Hillary Clinton have peppered their stump speeches, talking points and position papers with language about the common good. Appeals to the common good resonate particularly at a time when war, corporate scandals, the government’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and anxiety about globalization have left many feeling adrift in a rapidly changing world. “ Things fall apart; the center
cannot hold.” William Butler Yeats wrote in his 1920 poem, “ The Second Coming.” This could describe our own fractured and alienated era. Despite the flurry of references to the common good in public discourse, however, the term often twists in the rhetorical wind and comes across as a vague idea, so unthreatening that it is about as controversial as clean drinking water. The common good has been invoked in sound bites and catchphrases to support both liberal and conservative arguments. But an authentic understanding of the common good—one enriched by its particular connection to Catholic social thought—has practical implications for public policy and defies conventional ideological and political categories. Indeed, Catholicism’s long history of defining common good as rooted in the dignity of the human person and the specific demands of justice makes Catholics especially well-suited to challenge societal leaders to embrace a more energetic public agenda rooted in the common good.
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Theory and Practice For centuries, the Catholic tradition has emphasized a call to the common good as the centerpiece of Catholic social teaching. Building on concepts articulated first by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas spoke about the good sought by all as intertwined with the reality of God. In the 16th century, the earliest followers of St. Ignatius Loyola were among the first Westerners to travel beyond Europe, inspired in part by a global vision of the common good. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), was the first to make formal use of the concept of the common good as the starting point for the church’s social analysis. According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “ The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people.” Yet there is a stunning failure to connect the clarity of these ideals and the realities of a world in which poverty, war and racism tear apart the human family. As globalization dissolves borders and shrinks our world, for example, the bur-
Catholicism’s long history of deﬁning common good as rooted in the dignity of the human person and the speciﬁc demands of justice, makes Catholics especially well-suited to challenge societal leaders to embrace a more energetic public agenda rooted in the common good.
dens and benefits of global capitalism undermine the common good by widening the chasm between rich and poor, hope and despair. The chasm was evident in a New York Times story, “ The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age” (July 15, 2007), in which billionaire tycoons boasted about their personal accomplishments, bemoaned taxes on their fortunes and had little to say about why more than 37 million Americans live in poverty in the world’s richest country. A few months earlier, the NASDAQ launched a private stock market for elite investors with assets of more than $100 million. Meanwhile, in many towns and cities, the blue-collar jobs that once supported the middle class have disappeared as corporations pursue cheap labor, minimal regulation and higher profits outside the United States. Traditional community bonds are fraying. A commitment to the “commons,” public spaces that benefit all, has given way to private, gated communities where strangers of different classes or complexions can live apart at a comfortable distance. Our political culture both mirrors and shapes these trends. While government has often been an instrument of social good during epochal changes in American history, several decades of ideological assaults have branded “big government” as antithetical to freedom and individual responsibility. The marketplace, privatization and the primacy of choice have become a secular trinity. While Catholic social teaching values the importance of personal achievement, it also insists that government take on responsibilities that the market or individuals alone cannot or will not meet. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the common good as “the reason the political authority exists.” Furthermore, the church’s social doctrine insists that “ownership of goods be equally accessible to all” and that the “universal destination of goods” requires a moral economic system in which workers earn living wages and resources are distributed equitably. Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, writes that love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable and that “justice is both the aim and intrinsic criterion of all politics.”
The 2008 Election As a presidential election year begins, campaigners will again rank Catholics among the most coveted voters. Since Catholic social teaching is broad and deep, Catholics should insist that our national debate on values reflect the fullness of this rich tradition. Building a
“The principle of the common good, to which
Alexia Kelley is the executive director
every aspect of social life must be related if it is
and a principal founder of Catholics
to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dig-
in Alliance for the Common Good, a non-partisan, non-
nity, unity and equality of all people.”
profit organization dedicated to promot—Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
ing the fullness of the Catholic social tradition in the public square. She has served in non-governmental organizations committed to poverty reduction, social justice and the environment. Alexia is also co-editor of Living the Catholic
culture of life requires economic and social policies that help women choose life. It requires ending an unjust war, ensuring that poor children have healthcare and taking seriously the threats of global climate change. A renewed common good narrative in our public square has the potential to inspire a civic and moral awakening, one that Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned when he spoke of the “beloved community,” a society where all of us, not just a few, have the opportunity to share in the abundance of creation. No political party has a monopoly on moral values. Both Republicans and Democrats have an equal opportunity to succeed or fail in living up to the obligations of the common good. As Catholics, our faith inspires us to help reshape our culture and politics not simply as another interest group, but as members of a global church that seeks justice for the most vulnerable because it recognizes our common humanity as children of God. We should take up this struggle with hope, insisting that our public officials treat the common good not as another catch phrase in a campaign playbook, but as the foundation of moral leadership. In this way, we speak from the heart of our tradition with a message as old as the Beatitudes and as powerfully relevant for this election as it will still be a century from now.
Social Tradition: Cases and Commentary (Sheed & Ward).
John Gehring is a senior writer and media specialist for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and a former national education reporter for Education Week newspaper. He also served in media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops where he provided media outreach and commentary writing on international justice and peace, immigration and other social justice issues. John can be reached at email@example.com.
Reprinted from America, October 15, 2007, with permission of America Press, Inc. All rights reserved. For subscription information, call 1-800-627-9533 or visit www.americamagazine.org.
Silent Motion: The Story of Mime-Ink It was almost 50 years
meetings and other gatherings as well as presentations for youth. When I mime I go to a place where I feel no tension or worry or stress, a place where I can touch hearts. I am simply within the flow of my actions much like a dancer who loses herself in the freedom of movement. The visual component seems to allow the audience to go beyond the spoken word and move to a deeper level of understanding and engagement with the message. I can capture atten-
courtesy of sister gloria heese
ago when I chose the motto “ To love and to serve.” Today I try to live out this motto in a new, creative way through miming. Sister Janel Sawatzki (Omaha), and I have developed a ministry we call Mime-Ink. Mime is a combination of written words and gestures that deepens meaning, touches hearts and promotes reflection. We offer days of reflection, theme enrichment for
Sister Gloria Heese (Omaha) performs a pantomime for a local parish.
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tion, use freeing actions that show and develop a relationship with God. This is my service. I like to work out movements for whole groups to do together. People like to move to meaningful phrases. It brings the whole self into the spirit of a prayer. In July of 2006, when West Midwest had its inaugural gathering in Chicago, Illinois, I worked out movements to “Stitch our lives anew…quilt us into one.” As I stood on the stage and saw over 500 sisters, associates and companions raising their hands in a weaving motion, reaching out to each other and intertwining their fingers, a sense of wonder and pride swelled up in me that I won’t forget. We were acting out in symbolic form the unity we hope to create. It was an experience of the Spirit, a powerful force within everyone in the room. The cosmology of Matthew Fox, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry and Diarmuid O’Murchu is my inspiration. Prayer and meditation are major components of my spiritual life and I have the luxury of time to focus my energy without the overwhelming pressures of administration as in past ministries. I am very appreciative of our leadership in the Omaha region who have supported and encouraged our ministry and enabled me to live my bliss. My creativity, spirituality and need to serve have found a home through mime. For more information, visit www.mime-ink.com. —Sister Gloria Heese (Omaha)
Strategy for socially responsible investing This article is the second in the series on Mercy investment. VALERIE HEINONEN, OSU explains how, through shareholder activism, investing gives Mercy voice and leverage in the marketplace as well as ways to use our resources to serve the interests of persons in need.
Attention to providing funds
for the special needs, housing, healthcare of the elderly, infirm or disabled members of the community and financial support for ministries led many religious orders to invest in corporate stocks and bonds by the 1970s. At the same time two historic issues confronted some mainline Protestant denominations: questions about profiting from investments in corporations supplying the war in Vietnam and requests from sister churches in South Africa that U.S. partners put an end to the role and profits of banks and corporations propping up the apartheid government. The impact spurred debate on connections among theology, justice and investments and this drove the founding of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).
Today ICCR is a faith-based member coalition of 275 Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic institutional investors who use their rights and power as shareholders to change companies from within. These institutions hold investments valued at more than $120 billion. When socially responsible unions, foundations, universities, public and private pension funds, and investment managers are added in, the estimate climbs to over $2.1 trillion. Shareowners in all companies have the right to question management, to attend annual shareholder meetings and to vote on proposals recommended by management and other investors; and some, including the Sisters of Mercy, actually exercise these rights. As socially responsible investors we hold ourselves accountable for ensuring that corporations offer a good return on our investment and respect the common good.
THE SISTERS OF MERCY AS S H A R E H O L D E R A D V O C AT E S Shareholder advocacy is one of four key approaches to socially responsible investing. The others are screening to include or exclude corporations based on their activity, proxy voting and community investing (see the
November-December 2007 issue of ¡Viva! Mercy for more on community investing). Advocacy is a powerful tool for encouraging corporations to improve social, environmental and governance performance. Strategies include sponsoring shareholder resolutions, meeting with corporate management, testifying at Congressional and other public hearings, divesting stock, proxy solicitation and organizing/joining actions such as vigils and letter writing campaigns. Shareholders, as owners of a corporation, have the right to submit proposals for inclusion on the proxy ballot. These resolutions (written requests to management) must comply with certain regulations. A shareholder must own $2,000 worth of a company’s stock for at least one year. Text may not exceed 500 words nor contain materially false or misleading statements. Subject matter must be relevant and may not address ordinary business. Management may ask the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for permission to exclude a proposal that it believes does not meet all requirements. The filers have the right to respond to the company’s challenge and usually do so through legal counsel. The resolution is published in the proxy statement, a booklet that contains governance and financial information, e.g. the board of directors’ biographies, executive compensation packages, the number of times board committees met and member compensation. The proxy statement, proxy voting ballot and annual report are mailed to all shareholders. During the company’s annual meeting, the shareholder or the institutional investor’s representative moves the resolution, usually with a statement outlining the reasons for filing. Often the chair will make a response and may
engage in a brief exchange with that person or other stockholders. A resolution does not have to get 51 percent of the votes to “win.” The Detroit Regional Community requested transparency on General Dynamics’ corporate political contributions. The 21 percent vote led the chair to offer a meeting resulting in the report posted at the company’s website. A series of resolutions, averaging about 7.6 percent, filed by the St. Louis Regional Community brings Monsanto Company to the table for annual discussions on costs, sustainability, health and international impacts of genetically modified seeds. The SEC rules on percentages of votes required recognize the imbalance between amounts of stock held by investors such as the Sisters of Mercy and the blocks held by insurance companies and large financial institutions. A proposal must get at least three percent of the vote in its first year, six percent in its second and 10 percent in its third year to remain eligible for resubmission. This is important, particularly when we are raising a new issue. For example, the Merion Regional Community asked DuPont to report on use and phaseout of PFOA , a chemical with potential health and envi-
As socially responsible investors we hold ourselves accountable for ensuring that corporations offer a good return on our investment and respect the common good.
Other Mercy Shareholder Advocacy Issues: • Affordable housing • Access to and affordability of drugs • Depleted uranium • Diversity and violence in the workplace • Executive compensation • HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria drug affordability • Human rights • Sales to Israel/Palestine • Toxics in personal care products • Trafficking of children for sex • Trafficking of laborers • Water scarcity
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ronmental consequences used to produce Teflon. Shareholders may need time to understand potential business liabilities and human and environmental risks. This is especially true for weapons-related resolutions. Since 1976, the Sisters of Mercy have been a consistent and visible presence urging Department of Defense contractors to include the values of justice and integrity of creation in ethics codes and to apply them when bidding on contracts for foreign military sales, weapons production and militarization of space. The Regional Community of New Hampshire took such action with Tenneco, Inc.; the Regional Community of Brooklyn did the same with Textron Inc., both of which are highly
diversified multibillion dollar, global companies today. Perhaps the two most rewarding shareholder outcomes have been the campaigns to end apartheid in South Africa and to promote global environmental standards. The first social policy resolution filed by a religious institution—the Episcopal Church in 1971—asked General Motors to withdraw from South Africa. Shareholder resolutions, demonstrations, student pressure on college trustees to divest from corporations doing business in South Africa, and other disinvestment activity ultimately ended the apartheid government. Almost immediately, investors urged those same banks and corporations to reinvest in the country to ensure a successful transition to democracy. Shared Interest, a
Advocacy is a powerful tool for encouraging corporations to improve social, environmental and governance performance.
Mercy Partnership community investment, helped lay practical economic foundations by making loans available for housing and small businesses. Early environmental resolutions raised concerns about nuclear power plant construction and pollution from nuclear warhead production. Exxon’s oil tanker disaster on the Alaskan coast gave rise to the Valdez principles. Now known as the CERES (California Environmental Resources Evaluation System) principles, the objective was to create environmental standards that corporations would be asked to accept and implement. Today investors are asking homebuilders and big box stores for energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reports. The Burlingame Regional Community requested that Chevron publically adopt goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from products and operations. Environmental justice led Mercy Investment Program (MIP) to a joint venture with two South Bronx, New York, agencies: Mercy Center and Sustainable South Bronx (SSB). The non-profits purchased stock in Synagro, the parent of New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo), a solid waste processing plant in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. MIP and SSB filed a resolution asking Synagro/NYOFCo to engage with the
community to produce a facilities report. The 31 percent vote in favor of the request plus the Mercy involvement persuaded management to engage in a ninemonth process with the investors; public officials; the local community board; teachers and organizations of youth, mothers and environmentalists. The printed report contains a joint action plan, a commitment to improve plant operation and explanations/diagrams of plant functions. All problems are not resolved but changes are taking place at the plant, the oversight agencies are coordinating and both sides are listening. As with all struggles to improve human, environmental and governance conditions, shareholder advocacy is one mission among many. The difference is the motivation for using stock portfolios to hold corporations accountable for societal impact. The Sisters of Mercy continue the witness of Catherine McAuley who animated those at centers of wealth, power and influence to share in her efforts to connect the rich to the poor, the influential to those ignored by society and the powerful to the powerless so that together God’s work on earth may be accomplished. Sister Valerie Heinonen is a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, a consultant on corporate social responsibility and former staff at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. For 30 years, Valerie has been a familiar participant in shareholder meetings across the country representing a number of congregational investment programs, including Mercy Investment Program and Sisters of Mercy, Detroit Regional Community, the Dominican Sisters of Hope and the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Sister Canice Johnson (Detroit) received the 2007 Everyday Hero Award from the RARE Foundation in recognition of her inspiring work in founding the Mercy Sister Canice Johnson Education Project and the new Detroit Cristo Rey High School. RARE’s mission is to inspire Michigan’s youth to see possibilities and make the connection to fulfilling futures and meaningful lives through the real-world examples of everyday heroes. Mercy Education Project serves girls and women in Southwest Detroit through after-school tutoring, summer enrichment, GED preparation and life skills support. Sister Mercy Cervantes (CCASA/Belize) was awarded the Order of Meritorious Service by the National Honours and Awards Advisory Committee in Belize for spending her life devoted to her God, her community and her country and for her service and commitment to education. A Sister Mercy Cervantes teacher and later principal at St. Catherine Academy in Belize City, Mercy went on to become Dean of St. John’s Junior College and now serves as Field Director at State University of New York (SUNY) International programs in Belize. Sister Marguerite Buchanan (Burlingame) received the Jefferson Award for public service by the San Mateo, California, County Board of Supervisors. She was honored for the creation and ongoing management of Catherine’s Center, a home for Sister Marguerite Buchanan women leaving prison, sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Mateo County. Marguerite has helped women find positive life patterns as they reenter the world through drug and alcohol programs, job training, spiritual direction and reconnection with their families. The National League for Nursing (NLN) recognized St. Xavier University’s School of Nursing in Chicago, Illinois, as a center of excellence in nursing education. This distinction honors schools that show innovation in all programs, conduct ongoing research to document the effectiveness of such innovation, set high standards for themselves and are committed to continuous quality improvement.
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St. Xavier will carry the designation for three years. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in St. Louis, Missouri, St. John’s Mercy Medical Center purchased a commemorative brick outside the Cardinals Busch Stadium to honor the sisters’ dedication to service in the St. Louis area. The inscription reads: “Sisters of Mercy Arrival in St. Louis, June 27, 1856. Cardinals Fans Ever Since!” Sister Suzanne Toolan (Burlingame), in collaboration with Elizabeth Dossa, director of communications for the Burlingame regional community, recently completed a commemorative book titled, I Am the Bread of Life. The title is the same as that of the popular hymn Suzanne wrote 41 years ago Sister Suzanne Toolan shortly after Vatican II. The hymn has been translated into 25 languages and performed in congregations around the world. In her book Suzanne shares the story behind her most famous composition and introduces an original hymn, “I Will Sing of Your Faithfulness.” Sister Marilyn Wallace (Omaha) was recently honored with membership in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. This organization supports the renewal of the Catholic Church undertaken by Pope John XXIII, shaped by Vatican II and carried on by Pope John’s successors. Sister Mary Roch Rocklage (St Louis) has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the St. Louis Business Journal for her work in healthcare. Sister Roch has served as chair of the Sponsor Council for the Sisters of Mercy Health System since 2004. She served as chair of the board from 1999 to 2003 and as CEO and chair of the board from 1986 to 1999. Sister Maria Elena González (St. Louis) and the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) of which she was executive director in San Antonio, Texas, have been selected as recipients of the Archbishop Patrick F. Flores Medal for Leadership in Hispanic Ministry. The awards were presented in Baltimore, Maryland, in November, 2007. Maria Elena served as president of MACC from 1993 through July 2007. She has also served as Chancellor for the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas.