What was to be a relatively brief stay with our Sisters of Mercy in Chile became even shorter when winter storms delayed our departure by 24 hours.
Although our sojourn in Chile was not a long one, it was rich in renewed friendships and good memories. With me were Sister Janet Korn, RSM, who earlier served in Chile for 16 years, and my niece, Grace Hastings, who has accompanied me on several visits to Brazil and Chile.
This year’s visit marked the 13th anniversary of my first trip to South America in 1981. To set foot on Chilean soil once again and to spend even a short time with our sisters not only brought back memories of that first visit to the mission of Mercy in Chile, but it also stimulated some reflection on the changes all of us have experienced in the years since then.
At that time, Sisters Janet Caufield, Janet Korn, Janet Wahl, Margaret Mungovan and Kay Schwenzer were on mission in Chile. Since then many other sisters from Rochester have served there for a time and then returned home. Sisters Margaret Mungovan and Janet Caufield now enjoy fullness of life.
I thought about all of those sisters during our time in Chile, and prayed in gratitude for their years of personal kindness and support, for their witness to the faith, and for the stream of life that has flowed into our local church through their generous ministries. It was great to be in their midst once again to hear the stories they tell of their mission experience through the years. Some stories are funny; some are sad, even tragic. But to hear them all is to have a deep sense of the faithful love through which God has shaped the lives of these women and of those whom they serve.
From the beginning our sisters have had many colleagues in ministry. They include Sisters of Mercy from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and several parts of the United States. They also have worked with the Columban Fathers and the lay faithful, clergy and religious of the several dioceses in which they have served over the years. At present Sisters Margaret Milne from New Zealand and Josephine Twomey from Ireland are a part of the Mercy community.
Thanks be to God, one of the significant developments that has taken place over the years has been the reception of Chilean women as professed Sisters of Mercy — truly a sign of rootedness and of promise for the future. On our first day in Chile, we gathered with the San Luis Community to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sister Marie Ines’ reception into the Sisters of Mercy.
Another encouraging sign of progress has been the establishment and growth of the Mercy Associate program in Chile. These associates are women and men who are attracted to the presence and charisms of the Sisters of Mercy, who desire to share in their life of prayer and participate in the Sisters’ work of serving the poor, the sick and the uneducated. Janet, Grace and I had a chance to spend an evening with a group of associates at Sister Jane Kenrick’s home in Viña del Mar. It was clear from stories of these associates that Mercy has made a real difference in their lives.
Perhaps the greatest change for our sisters in Chile during these years was the establishment in 1991 of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. As a result of that event, there has been a massive reorganization of the sisters throughout the Western Hemisphere. Now our sisters who work in Chile no longer belong to the New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community to which our local sisters belong but to the newly formed Caribbean, Central America, South America Community.
As the name suggests, this new community embraces a vast area and includes Sisters of Mercy in Belize, Honduras, Panama, Guyana, Peru, Argentina, Guatemala and Chile. Obviously, the challenges of such a venture are formidable to say the least. But with faith in God and with a history of meeting challenges with courage that goes back to Catherine McAuley, our sisters proceed in joyful hope.
I close with a special note of thanks to Sisters Anne Marie Mathis and Soledad Cantillana Calderón whose thoughtfulness provided me with yet another special experience that made me aware of God’s blessings through the years. When Janet, Grace and I traveled to Rancagua to visit them, they invited the Bishop of Rancagua to have lunch with us. I am always pleased to meet brother bishops when I travel. But, imagine my joy when I discovered that the Bishop of Rancagua is Alejandro Goic Kamelic with whom I was ordained a bishop on May 27, 1979. He and I were among the 27 bishops Pope John Paul II ordained that day.
I had never met him before that day, and hadn’t seen him since. But I have always remembered him because he and I were next to one another through the whole ceremony. He brought with him an album of photographs of the ceremony. It was a great delight to reminisce with him, to enjoy the photos and to reflect together on our years of episcopal service. He was 39 and I was 41 when we met. There was much to talk about. It was a total delight to do so.
I thank all in Chile for their gracious hospitality. I thank Janet and Grace for their kind company and generous assistance. I thank all in the diocese for your years of support for our Diocesan Mission Collection, which does much to support our Sisters of St. Joseph in Brazil and our Sisters of Mercy in Chile.
Peace to all.