Governance Structures of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy: Becoming One

Author: Lyons, Mary
Year:2005
Pages:292
ISBN:0-7734-6186-8
978-0-7734-6186-4
Price:199.95
14 July 1994 marked a significant milestone in the history of the Sisters of Mercy, a congregation founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831. On that day, 27 independent diocesan congregations were juridically united as the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy (Ireland). This study, historical and canonical in nature, examines how the governance structures that operated in this congregation evolved in response to ecclesiastical legislation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and especially to the Second Vatican Council's mandate for adaptation and renewal. In four organically related chapters the author addresses four questions: (i) What form of governance did the congregation inherit from its historical roots? (ii) What factors prompted the changes that had begun to take place in some Irish dioceses as early as 1860? (iii) What considerations motivated the eventual move towards a centralised form of government in 1994? and (iv) What are the implications of this development for the congregation? The author situates the foundation of the Mercy institute in the relevant historical, social, and ecclesiastical background. Then she integrates elements from several sources: the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, papal documents, those issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (under its various titles), conciliar decrees, together with archival material from Mercy Congregational archives. She systematically describes the various stages in the creation of new structures in response to the prevailing legislation. The human as well as the juridical factors that such restructuring involved are highlighted. Chapters three and four, in particular, offer a significant contribution to the canonical knowledge in the area of the law as it applies to religious. Students of religious life and institutes contemplating the challenge of restructuring will find this study particularly helpful and inspiring.

Reviews

“The present work addresses but one part of this movement, and concentrates on the efforts made in Ireland to bring into one, the 26 distinct Congregations of the Sisters of Mercy, each stemming from the same original source; in addition, a Congregation of Sisters in South Africa, many of whose members were originally from Ireland, also asked to join in the process. In all, over 3,000 Sisters were involved in these particular discussions … The present work is particularly important, because it is based on original archival material. It traces the various, sometimes hesitating, steps taken towards unification. It shows the difficulties that the Sisters had to face, not only from within the Institute, but also from the part of certain Church authorities. It shows how, with time and patience, minds could adapt to new situations and come up with solutions that would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago. Other institutes that are considering similar regrouping processes could also learn from this work. In other words, it is much more than a "nice story", even though much of it reads like a novel! It challenges; it does not hesitate to show newly-discovered weaknesses in the revised structures; but, at the same time, it is able to demonstrate how unimaginable things can be brought about through prayer and concerted action. It was a pleasure to read this work and to see it come to a successful conclusion. For those who are interested in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries, there are many fascinating discoveries to be made as they read and reflect on the facts outlined for us in Sister Mary Lyons' very scholarly work. Those who are students of religious life will also learn how determination and continued effort, especially when the grace of God is at work, can lead to unexpected results. While Catherine McAuley might not recognise today the structure of the Institute she founded in 1831, she would certainly recognise the spirit and the willingness to respond to unmet needs of society.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Francis G. MORRISEY, OMI, PhD, JCD, Titular Professor (and former Dean), Faculty of Canon Law, Université Saint-Paul, Canada

“The Sisters of Mercy have a very original and unusual history and experience of authority; for decades, they have extensively endeavoured to better grasp the core values present in that experience and retranslate them in an efficient way for the present and the future. Mary Lyons is, of course, an insider. As such, she is in a good position to make her description vivid and meaningful, and the reader is never disappointed. Indeed, many will find her work enlightening for different situations where canonical authority is at play, both in institutes of consecrated life and elsewhere. The work of Mary Lyons resolutely belongs to the literary genre "History of Institutions of the Catholic Church." The author carefully and systematically reconstructs situations and institutions of the past, showing how historical circumstances brought them to fruition and how church law was at play and helped along the way. She shows a first-class knowledge of Church law, yet she carefully avoids the trap of judging situations of the past from the vantage point of present-day legislation. The argumentation reveals a great sensitivity to both the historical and canonical aspects of consecrated life. To achieve this result, the author made full use of the available first-hand data. Foremost are the primary sources archived at various sites, in Ireland and beyond. The search for these sources seems to have been thorough. To correctly interpret them, the author makes uses of contemporary canonical doctrine. The reader is thus led throughout on secure ground: the facts and their significance are reconstructed step by step with the proper foundation. It is indeed very difficult to catch Mary Lyons in sweeping or unfounded statements: the proper document is almost always readily and adequately quoted! Her expert knowledge of Latin, and of vernacular languages (besides English) used in the sources, gives the book further value. Her conclusion gives the reader an idea about how the Sisters of Mercy see their Institute growing in the future. The new dimensions described here-internationality, inculturation, collaboration in ministry, new forms of membership-are in themselves real challenges for the persons in authority in this Institute, and in many others. Reading Mary Lyons' book is a real pleasure. It is well constructed and well balanced throughout. The expression is precise without ever being pedantic. The language used is modem but never careless. Overall, her work provides a solid, colourful, well-documented and inspiring history of a worldwide religious Institute, which represents a major current in female religious life, from the point of view of authority and the exercise of authority. This in itself has a real value for scholars of both History and Canon Law, but also for all who are interested in Irish history, or eager to understand Consecrated Life more in depth.” – Fr. Roland Jacques, O.M.I., Ph.D. (History of Law, Paris), JCD (Paris), Dean of Faculty of Canon Law, Université Saint-Paul, Canada

“It is a pleasure for me to recommend the publication of the thesis of Mary Lyons as indicated above ... As someone who works regularly with different religious institutes in Canada and more infrequently in Europe, I see this work as being very significant at this time in the evolution of religious congregations in Europe and North America. The majority of congregations or institutes are facing the same situation as that which is analysed in this work: the need to amalgamate parts of institutes for a variety of reasons, the most prevalent one being decreasing numbers ... Besides the importance of the content, the work is well written in a clear, interesting and straight forward style. The author was able to describe a complex situation with many historical ramifications in such a way as to capture the imagination of the reader while umavelling the various threads that had become intertwined throughout the growth and evolution of that particular institute. I highly recommend its publication.” – Marjory Gallagher, SC, Ph.D., Professor of Canon Law, Université Saint-Paul, Canada

"This is a well-written book, with a simple, clear, and accessible style. It is a historical study of religious life which demonstrates the interplay between canon law and evolving needs. The author's approach is always nuanced, and she is not afraid to note newly-discovered weaknesses in the revised Mercy statures. Finally, this work indicates in a concrete way how the wider contemporary Church may have something to learn from some of the decision-making processes found in religious life since Vatican II." - The Furrow

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
Preface
Introduction
1. Foundations of the Sisters of Mercy
1.1 Historical Background
1.2 Catherine Mcaugley and the Sisters of Mercy
1.3 Canonical Establishments of the Sisters of Mercy
2. Centralising Trends in the Congregation
2.1 Sisters of Mercy today: towards “Mercy International Association”
2.2 Ecclesiastical legislation of the twentieth century: impetus towards centralised government
2.3 Initial response of the Sisters of Mercy
2.4 Centralising trends in Australia and New Zealand
2.5 Unions in Newfoundland, Great Britain and Ireland
3. Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy (Ireland)
3.1 Diocesan amalgamations
3.2 The Mercy Association 1973
3.3 Mercy Ireland 1985
3.4 Formal preparation for Union
3.5 Preparation for Union and First Congregational Chapter
3.6 Preparation for Founding event and Congregational Chapter
4. Considerations and Implications of the Union
4.1 Congregational Government: Primary focus of unity
4.2 Establishment of Provinces, Regions, and Mission Areas
4.3 Congregational Policies and Directives Pertaining to Ministry
4.4 Policies Relating to Formation and Other Issues
General Conclusions
Appendices
Bibliography
Index