News & Events

Act for Earth Day, 22 April

'We will enjoy and celebrate Earth’s beauty and bounty and her many species. We will honour our duty to love and care for her and add to her well-being wherever possible.'
(Chapter Statement)

This Sunday, 22 April is Earth Day. Each year Earth Day has a theme. The focus of this year's celebration is to end plastic pollution, now considered amongst the greatest of environmental threats, because it is literally found everywhere.

Plastic pollution is attacking Australia’s beaches, waterways and oceans, and the animals that live there which this video from Guardian Australia shows.

How can we reduce plastic in our day-to-day life?

One possibility is to enact the 4Rs:
Refuse disposable plastic...
Reduce your plastic footprint...
Reuse durable, non-toxic containers...
Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse...

The Earth day network is focussed on ending plastic pollution. More information, suggestions and resources can be found in this kit.

Bishop Vincent appoints Mercy Sister as Chancellor for Diocese

'With her vast breadth of experience in education, pastoral work and ministry, the Most Rev Vincent Long OFM CONV has appointed Sr Catherine Ryan rsm as Chancellor (Ministries) for the Diocese of Parramatta. Sr Catherine is the first female religious to hold such a position in the Diocese. She joins Msgr Ron McFarlane who has been appointed Chancellor (Administration).

Sr Catherine has been a vowed member of the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta since 1963 and ministered for the following twenty-seven years in the field of Catholic Primary education. Initially a teacher at St Charles’ Ryde and St Bernadette’s Castle Hill, Catherine completed higher studies in Education Administration and then worked in the Catholic Education Office Sydney to establish the Leadership Development Program for Primary School Principals (1974-1976). Sr Catherine served as principal of St Patrick’s Primary School Blacktown (1977-1980), OLOF Caringbah (1981-83) and St Michael’s Baulkham Hills (1985-1990).

In the early nineties, Sr Catherine gained qualifications in Clinical Pastoral Education through Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney and was appointed by Bishop Bede Heather as Chaplain to those living with and affected by HIV/Aids in Western Sydney. This ministry included the opening of Bethany, a respite care centre in Blacktown, which was sponsored by the Diocese and supported by many religious congregations and the NSW Health Department.

From 1998-2005 she gained rich pastoral experience as member of the Parish Team of Holy Family Community, Mt Druitt. From 2005, Sr Catherine took up fulltime leadership roles within her Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, serving as Congregation Vicar 2004-2010 and as Congregation Leader 2010-2016. She currently lives in the Mercy community at St Michael’s Baulkham Hills.

Sister Catherine Ryan commences her appointment 1 July 2017.'

Article first published in Catholic Outlook, Diocese of Parramatta News. Reprinted with permission.

Celebrating Australian Citizenship

The City of Sydney holds regular citizenship ceremonies to welcome new Australians.

Janet Woods rsm attended two citizenship ceremonies this week, on 19th June and on World Refugee Day (20th June). The ceremonies were held at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) near Central Station Sydney. The two women who got their Australian citizenship are refugees, one from Sudan and one from South Sudan. They both attend English classes at Mamre House and have attended our Citizenship classes which helped them prepare for the citizenship test.

L-r: Janet Woods rsm with Achol Deng at conclusion of the ceremony

We have been conducting these Citizenship classes at Mamre House since 2007 and to date 53 women have passed the test and gained their Australian citizenship. This is quite amazing considering that most of the women spoke no English when they arrived in Australia and the majority had never been to school because of the 20 years war in Sudan.

Mamre House in St Marys was set up by the Parramatta Sisters of Mercy through Mary Louise Petro rsm and continued under our care for many years. It is now a work of Catholic Care Social Services.

"It has been a great joy and privilege for me to have been able to assist all these women to gain their citizenship and to rejoice with them at the Citizenship ceremonies", said Sr Janet.

Responding in Mercy to People Seeking Asylum

Dear Mercy Friends,

This third session of the Responding in Mercy Program will focus on People Seeking Asylum, considering the issues of global protection, local support, and our common values.

Please download the attached copy of the Mercy Futures Flyer (PDF) to find out more about our three speakers:
Carolina Gottardo ( Director - JRS Australia),
Maeve Brown (Manager - The Arrupe Project) and
Sarah Puls (Casework Team Leader).

The session will be held at the Mercy Congregation Centre, 6 Victoria Rd, Parramatta, on Wednesday 26th July, from 6.30 - 8.30pm.

RSVP: By Friday 21 July.
Email: or call the Congregation Office on 9683 2555.

We look forward to welcoming you at this event.

Breaking Bread with Refugees

On a Friday night recently, I was part of a dinner party with a group of 10 or so refugee men and a few women who had been befriending them. Some of these men were employed in a meat processing plant. Most of them have no work and relied for support on other refugees and friends in the local parish and community.

During the evening conversation focused on stamina required to work in meat processing, poverty, and concerns about impending deportation and work visas. A lot of fear and anxiety was shared, especially about family members at home far away who were being harassed and taken for questioning. Messages from relatives, urging the asylum seekers not to return home, were compounding an already tense and worrying situation.

That night my mind traveled back to other precious moments when I shared food, drink and conversation with those seeking asylum and a safe refuge.

My initial introduction to refugees and asylum seekers was Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya on the border of Sudan. I was to be the camp counselor.

As soon as I arrived at the camp, by UNHCR plane from Wilson airport in Kenya, the UNHCR lawyer met me and asked me to accompany him to the camp hospital (a tent). Recently there had been a spate of hunger strikes and deaths that the UN was hoping to curtail. My task was to prevent the death of the refugee lying on the dirt floor. He was refusing to eat and getting weaker as the days passed. I remember kneeling down beside him and hoping that I did not faint from the shock of the experience and the poverty of the situation in which I found myself. I encouraged him to break his fast and sip some milk from a teaspoon that I was dipping into a cup. This was my first sharing of food with a refugee.

On other more pleasant occasions in Kakuma, I was invited to share coffee and small eats with refugees from Eritrea This partaking of food and drink was a ritualistic ceremonial. Green coffee beans were roasted, ground with pestle and mortar, slowly immersed in boiling water and loaded with lots and lots of sugar. “Black as pitch, hot as hell and sweet as a woman” they would say-not for children or wimps. All food was eaten from a common dish with our hands. I can still remember the aroma, the taste and the inevitable anxious conversation around getting accepted into another country preferably USA. Usually water was boiled in the sun and a good deal of cooking was solar. Wood given for cooking by UNHCR would then be traded for coffee beans and other luxuries.

Another meal that is etched in memory was at Christmas Island Detention Centre. It was shared with a group of Vietnamese asylum seekers. It was a Last Supper experience. The group was to be deported early the next morning as they were labelled economic refugees and not considered eligible for Australian protection. They were extremely poor. I could tell from their yellow broken fingers and toenails, their gnarled hands and general physical appearance. The men were hoping to get enough money to send their children to school. The smugglers had assured them that they would be welcomed and get work in Australia. Needless to say this did not happen. We talked a lot about their disappointment, shattered hopes and shame at having to face their families destitute; despite the fact they had risked everything to try to help. Money was still owed to the smugglers and government officials would have to be faced on return. Imprisonment was a real possibility. Despite trying to be upbeat, I cried all the way home.

Another precious moment of sharing happened at Curtin Detention Centre, Western Australia (now closed). It was a very hot day and I was visiting a refugee who was very disturbed. We sat together in the sun for a long time, neither of us talking. Then to my surprise my companion broke the silence and asked, “Would you like a drink of water?” In all his pain and inability to articulate his own emotional, mental and physical pain, he was thinking of my needs. It was a reversal of the Woman at the Well experience and I left the Centre that day feeling refreshed and blessed.

We all know that it is a hard time to be seeking asylum or permanent residence as a refugee in Australia or any country for that matter. It is a long time gone since one only had to rap the knocker on the door of a convent, monastery or cathedral precinct to be given instant asylum, invited to share whatever food and drink was prepared and assured of a safe passage to freedom.

Maybe the day will come again when doors will again have knockers for asylum seekers and everyone will be invited to come in and to share whatever banquet is prepared. May that day come sooner rather than later.

- Valda Dickinson rsm

Article image: Christmas Island Detention Centre. CC 2.0

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