by Sr BRIDGET CRISP, RSM
Many of us know the phrase “actions speak louder than words”. This phrase comes to mind when I reflect on what attracted me to the Sisters of Mercy.
In 1989, I was home on a short break from university. My mother said, “Bridget, come with me to the Catholic Women’s League meeting as we have a special guest, Sr Mary Foy, who will speak to us about the issue of homelessness and the commitment of the Sisters of Mercy in setting up the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust”. I came and I was impressed with the social action that I was hearing about first-hand from a religious sister. I filed the encounter away and went back to university.
During my university years, I had strong indications and pulls to pursue the call of religious life, but I made excuses. Excuses like: “I am not good enough”; “I am not perfect; I am rough around the edges”. The more excuses I made, the stronger the call.
After university, I worked for the quarantine service in Auckland. I considered it an ideal job — a combination of indoor and outdoor work with a lot of variety. Six months into the job, I was not feeling satisfied or fulfilled. Something was missing. Again, the call was strong and, in my frustration, I made contact with Sr Mary Foy, thinking that, if I followed this a bit, that call would go away. Again, I was comparing myself to an internally-created image of religious life
that was not real.
Sr Mary Foy, at that time, was still living in the community attached to Monte Cecilia House, where the housing trust was located. Over four years, I joined the community for prayer and a meal, which often was not regular (for me) due to the different shift hours I worked. During that time, my sense of fulfilment grew. Yet still I tried to pull back by comparing myself to a group of extraordinary women and making excuses: “I have not got the right degree” (my degree was a Bachelor of Agriculture). To the credit of the sisters, they pushed back and gently, but firmly, dismantled my internalised images of religious life and my excuses.
So, here I am, a little over 20 years as a vowed religious, and nearly 23 years since I first said “yes” to becoming a religious. I have done many interesting things over the years. I was with a group who established a large permaculture food garden and worked towards the restoration of a wetland area.
I have been involved in teaching, both in schools and out in the community. I was part of the international team of Mercy Sisters who went to Paris for COP21 for the climate change talks, and I have spent time at the Mercy International Global Action Desk at the United Nations.
Life has been full and satisfying. It is something that Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, would agree with. Some parallels of Catherine’s story echo with mine — Catherine’s observation of the models of religious life in the late 18th and early 19th century did not appeal, and there was a reluctance to go down that road. She wanted to be out amongst the poor. Yet, with guidance of supporters like Dr Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, Catherine said “yes”, and on December 12, 1831, the Sisters of Mercy began and were known as the “walking sisters”.
On reflection about my vocation and where I am today, I give thanks to all those extraordinary people who have come into my life, and have shown me the signposts on my vocation and faith journey that is still continuing. My advice to those who are reflecting on a vocation to religious life: be brave and follow up on that call. Don’t try and deny it for God always finds a way!