New trust to own Sisters of Mercy ministries

3 Whanau Mercy with bishops

In a first for Aotearoa New Zealand, Ngā Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand has launched Whānau Mercy Ministries, which is a “Ministerial Public Juridic Person (MPJP) of Pontifical Right” that will own and oversee incorporated ministries established by the sisters in this country over more than 150 years. 

The launch of the new MPJP by Ngā Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand was celebrated at the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph in Auckland on March 25.  

Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe, the new trustees of Whānau Mercy Ministries, special guests and representatives from the Tiaki Manatū incorporated ministries, gathered with the Sisters of Mercy for a eucharistic celebration to launch the new MPJP. The new MPJP is independent of Ngā Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand, and it took up its responsibilities as a charitable trust on April 1.  

The Sisters of Mercy New Zealand received approval to create this new canonical and civil entity after discernment, preparation and a petition to the Holy See. It is the first Ministerial Public Juridic Person of Pontifical Right for Aotearoa New Zealand, and was established by decree on November 27, 2022. From April 1, the ownership of the incorporated ministries founded by the Sisters of Mercy dating back 173 years transferred to the new civil trust.  

The board of Ngā Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Tiaki Manatū Sisters of Mercy Ministries Trust, whose mission it has been to provide for the governance and growth of the incorporated ministries on behalf of the congregation, has ceased. The Sisters of Mercy, in creating this independent entity, are known as the sponsor congregation. 

According to the Association of Ministerial PJPs website (Australia), “Public Juridic Person” (PJP) is the term used by the Church for an entity established by canon law to perform a specific function. The most common PJPs are dioceses, parishes and religious institutes (for example, religious orders). Public means it is acting officially on behalf of the Church. 

In recent years, some religious Institutes overseas have transferred their ministries (for example, schools, hospitals, aged care) to newly established PJPs. As these new entities have an exclusive responsibility for Church ministries, they are often known as “ministerial” public juridic persons to distinguish them from traditional PJPs, the association website stated. 

According to a media statement from Ngā Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand, “the process of welcoming lay women and men to Church leadership roles has been an evolving one, as sisters have discerned the need for new levels of energy and expertise to see these works of mercy sustained and carried into the future. Led by lay people, the structure provides for long-term stable governance, and the continuance of the Catholic identity and the mercy charism of the ministries”. 

The incorporated ministries that will move into the new structure are in healthcare, education, community development and affordable housing for seniors. They are Te Korowai Atawhai Mercy Hospice, Auckland; Mercy Hospital, Dunedin; Te Waipuna Puawai Mercy Oasis, Auckland; Mercy Villas, Upper Hutt; Coolock Cottages, Dunedin; St Mary’s College, Auckland; Carmel College, Auckland; St Mary’s College, Wellington; St Catherine’s College, Wellington; Villa Maria College, Christchurch. 

The Sisters of Mercy have stated that they are “confident that this new Catholic entity of Pontifical Right, governed by canonical statutes, will carry forward the teaching, healing and caring ministry of Jesus Christ, based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and expressed in the charism and traditions of Ngā Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand”. The first trustees for Whānau Mercy Ministries were introduced at the launch.  

N Celebration 

The gathering on March 25 was a public celebration of this new creation for mission, and is something unique in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand. As Sr Sue France, RSM, the congregation leader said at the celebration, “For us as a congregation, this is a profound moment of change. A seminal moment in our history and it has been a very important decision . . . The decision marks a shift in our journey as vowed Mercy women in Aotearoa. In many ways, the shift has been made over time and now this is the final step, and we know it is the right one.” 

Sr Sue told NZ Catholic that they started working on Whanau Mercy Ministries as far back as 2014. 

“It’s a long and a complicated process. We had to do a whole lot of work before we got to this stage,” she said. 

The sisters gifted the board of trustees with a bronze scultpure, Te Ngākau Atawhai, the heart of Mercy. Sr Sue said that the gift is a reminder as well as a “symbol of our shared history and our shared charism, the charism of Mercy”. 

Sr Denise Fox, RSM , who spoke on behalf of the board, said that they are committed to the “development of whānau, centred in the Gospel and Mercy, committed to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the three core values of Mercy mission: whānaungātangā (enabling oneness and inclusion), aroha (experiencing love and compassion both given and received) and kaitiakitangā (guarding and enhancing the wellbeing of Earth and its peoples)”. 

“More recently in some countries, the sisters, rather than handing the ministries to another charity or closing them down, have established new structures to provide for long-term stable governance of their ministries, and for the continuance of their Catholic identity,” Sr Denise said. 

She said that the Whanau Mercy Ministries will continue to respond to emerging needs and “develop new expressions of the ‘gift of mercy’”. 

Bishop Lowe, at the start of the Mass, remarked on the privilege that he had had in being “a Mercy boy”. 

“That’s one of the great sadnesses of Bishop Pat,” Bishop Lowe quipped, referring to his predecessor having not been educated by the Sisters of Mercy, “but his [Bishop Dunn’s] sisters had the beauty of being taught by the Sisters of Mercy.” 

In a more serious tone, he called on the new board to never forget the values of mercy. 

“In the establishment of the new structures, it’s not about being corporates. The world’s got enough corporates. What the world needs is mercy,” he said to the board. 

“The sisters have given such a great example of that and will, please God, continue to give great examples of that. But what you’re going to offer now is a new way for other people to pick up the challenge of Mercy and to run with it.” 

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Rowena Orejana

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