In the busyness of daily life, it is easy to olverlook the good things that happen, small though they may seem. At a recent spirituality day Suz Marden, Staff Spiritual Formation Team Leader, for Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong, spoke about the “threads of mercy” that make up the intricate tapestry of who we are. Father Ken Barker MGL claims mercy takes us “into the world of love, where we become the image of God”. For Joan Chittister, mercy is more than just forgiveness, it’s also “what we do or feel, when we should least feel it, to make the lives of others more livable.” So when Suz posed the question, about whether we had ever experienced a thread of mercy, I couldn’t help but think of all the amazing and selfless things that take place in our Catholic schools, that the media and the general public don’t hear about; the incidental actions and ways of being, that have become second nature or the ‘norm’ in our schools.
There are continuous demands placed on school staff to go above and beyond their initial role of educators and these demands are increasing in volume and complexity. Whether it be organising and supervising a social justice event during a rare lunch break or free period during their busy week, or staying back after class to help a student understand what was being taught in class, staff are committed to do their best, to ensure that students in our schools have every opportunity to find purpose and meaning in their lives. Working in the area of Community Development, I have had the privilege of seeing humanity at its best; the generosity of spirit fueled by threads of mercy and compassion that make our Catholic Schools special and something of which to be enormously proud.
I’ve sat across the table from a school principal during the enrolment of a newly arrived refugee family, with no spoken English language and very few possessions, and witnessed compassion in action. The generosity and gentle manner of this principal helped ease the fears and worries of a mother who is wanting the best for her children, and restored the dignity of a fellow human being, displaced from their homeland through no fault of their own.
I witnessed the love and joy that two incredible teachers in our schools have given to children living on the margins of society. By extending the threads of mercy and compassion to three impressionable teenage girls from a remote area in Western Australia, their lives have changed forever. Over the past few years, while many look forward to spending time away from students and slowing down during the school holidays, the family of Jenna Hogan and Murray Cleal (pictured) generously opened up their home and their hearts to host the girls for a period of time during the Christmas holiday break. These acts of kindness, provide the girls with an opportunity to view life through a different lens and experience a family structure different to their own. The thread of mercy and compassion extends long past the visit, as the family continues to offer support throughout the year to help the girls through school and on their journey through life.
The last few years have been a difficult time of grief and loss in our diocese, with a number of our school communities experiencing the loss of a student, a parent, or a colleague. The threads of mercy have been modeled by staff, who, while dealing with their own grief and pain, have supported students and families in a variety of ways, to ensure that the stability of school life has continued.
The threads of mercy recently joined a female teacher and two students together while they celebrated their school feast day. Mrs Elise Burns, Miranda Moffat and Lily Nicholl threw vanity aside and courageously shaved their heads, as a sign of solidarity and support for cancer victims. Their acts of courage gave a voice to those who don’t have a choice about losing their hair while undergoing chemotherapy and allowed the whole school community an opportunity to experience a thread of mercy.
As we journey through this Year of Mercy, ay the threads of mercy continue to weave their way into the tapestry of who we are, so that the goodness that quietly take splace around us is celebrated, the pain and suffering of people are healed, and our schools increasingly become beacons of faith, hope and love in the community.
Written by Josie Cooks, Community Development Officer- Catholic Education, Diocese of Wollongong.