Director of Mercy Associates walks through life with others who share same values

Kathy Schiro. (Provided photo)

Kathy Schiro

Who is she: Director of Mercy Associates, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Mid-Atlantic Community

Sr. Camille: When, in 1827, Catherine McAuley, an unmarried Irish woman, decided use her inheritance to care for people suffering from poverty, sickness and lack of education, other women quickly decided to join her. They chose a form of communal living, nourished by prayer and good works. In a few years, convents modeled on Catherine’s flourished in Ireland and beyond. Bishops invited these sisters to come to the United States to exercise their well-respected ministries here.

While Catherine's model was sustained by vowed women religious, women and men who are committed to another state of life also made known their desire to share various aspects of Mercy life and ministry. They were organized according to guidelines and policies developed by the community and were called associates.

And this association is what, in part, defines you.

Schiro: Thank you for saying that, Sr. Camille. My goal as director of the Mercy Associates is to live every day of my life following the core values of the Sisters of Mercy, since I learned what they are by signing my covenant back in 1995. It's my belief that the women who worked in the House of Mercy with Catherine in the very beginning were her associates, and that makes me feel even closer to her, our foundress.

How would you describe Mercy Association?

So many people are merciful by nature, but to be a covenanted Mercy Associate, after a period of true discernment we formally agree to join with the Sisters of Mercy in the areas of prayer, ministry and community. During an orientation process of about a year, we learn of the history and charism of Catherine, the mission and ministries of Mercy, prayer, Gospel values, the 'call,' and our responsibility to be Mercy each day of our lives. Our associate pin signifies all we have promised, and each action we take should be a witness to those covenants we sign. We are women or men, married or single, and we hear and respond to a call from God. We desire to walk with and care for those who are poor, sick and uneducated. We partner with the sisters and share in their mission, charism and spirituality.

Please describe your responsibilities and opportunities as its director.

As director of associates for the Mid-Atlantic Community, I work with and under one sister from the community leadership team as I strive to model and promulgate Mercy in daily living in all environments: business/work and home/family life. The director supports and ensures integration of associates across the Mid-Atlantic Community as a group of dedicated lay people united in the mission of the church to carry out the Vatican II Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity in collaboration with the Sisters of Mercy.

The director collaborates with local volunteer coordinators to serve in providing educational opportunities, broadening the experience and knowledge of the Sisters of Mercy and their goals, orienting new members, communicating a common message, and linking the local areas to the Mid-Atlantic Community and the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

The director focuses on supporting the work of the sisters identified in their chapter declaration and also works closely concerning the critical concerns of Earth, women, nonviolence, racism and immigration. Communication and implementing opportunities for associates to advance justice through various ways is vital. Sustainability is paramount, as days of formation and education are offered and leadership qualities are surfaced and shaped.

Collaboration is necessary in moving association forward with other directors in the institute: Community departments of justice, communication, finance, spirituality, development, IT and archives are collaborated with to support the works of the sisters.

Personally, I use a pastoral approach in my communications since people in this hurting world need lifting up to realize their full potential as children of our loving, all-inclusive God. We all are called and gifted, if we only would make ourselves open to the call.

The opportunities in this position are endless for growth in every arena of life.

What brought you to Mercy Association?

For much of my early life, I didn't even know anything about the Sisters of Mercy. I was familiar with the Sisters of Charity and the Dominican Sisters. At age 48, as I worked at the Bloomfield Counseling Center, we accepted many interns as part of our education outreach. One day a very spunky young woman came for an interview, and I was surprised to learn she was a Sister of Mercy! She was not like any sister I had ever known. Her name is Lisa Gambacorto, and she now is directress of Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, N.J. I was so drawn to the spirituality and welcoming manner of Sr. Lisa that I asked her if there was room for a lay woman anywhere in the community. And that was the beginning of the rest of my life!

How many associates does the Mid-Atlantic Mercy community have? How many vowed members are in this group?

As of today, there are 978 associates and 844 sisters in the Mid-Atlantic Community.

Where and with whom did you grow up?

I grew up in Garfield and Elmwood Park, N.J. I am the eldest of three children, and my brothers are/were nine and 11 years younger than me. Joe is a social media whiz in California, and my youngest brother, George, died from MS three years ago. Because my mother often worked, I was a second mother to them.

What was your family like?

My family was happily and honestly dysfunctional. My father was very strict with the boys, and my mother was strict with me. My father was an alcoholic, and I can probably safely say that my responsible nature came from living in that very Catholic Polish and German household. Mom was a workaholic yet did care about other people. However, things needed to be done her way. Collaboration was not a process used in our home! When I was seven, I came down with a bone disease and needed to wear leg braces for two years. That was a very emotional time in my life that I can remember to this day. I think it formed my sensitivity to people who have disabilities or who are the 'other'.

Where were you educated?

My grammar school years were at St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic School in Garfield, with at least 50 children in each class. I cared deeply for the Dominicans who taught us. The seed of considering life as a religious sister was planted then. Actually my life was seriously saved by two of the sisters. While wearing the leg braces, I stayed in the classroom during fire drills. One drill turned into a real fire, and there I was in my classroom, watching the flames swell outside my class windows! The next thing I knew, my teacher and my principal were running up the stairs with their rosaries clanking as they screamed my name. They carried me down those stairs as the firemen were arriving. I will never forget that.

It would be interesting to know their reactions to that event!

My high school years were in a public school and I graduated from Montclair State College (now University) in 1968 majoring in high school mathematics education. I taught math for a few years before our children arrived.

Did you have a role model or someone who influenced or directed you?

In high school, Maria Cording was my math teacher, and she instilled in me the excitement of teaching and explaining math to others. On a spiritual path, it was Fr. Richard Rento, who was my pastor for many years. He was and still is the spiritual gentle giant who has the key to understanding the goodness and pure love of God. Within the Mercy Community, my present Spiritual Director is Sr. Louise Gorka. When I envision Catherine McAuley, I often see Sr. Louise, with her light, dancing spirit, yet solid connection to the Divine. .

Please describe your current family.

Michael and I have been married for 48 years. We have four children and eight grandchildren. They’re all beautiful and all perfect (spoken like a true grandma!).

Please share the contributions of a few of the associates.

There’s not enough time nor space to list all the ways associates move the mission of Mercy forward in the world! I’ll just generalize. Besides working in their own parishes and Mercy ministries for women, children and those who are poor, sick or uneducated, some who are able travel to Guyana, Africa, Panama, Haiti, and anywhere there’s a need. They work with the sisters or alone, in existing ministries or as creators of missions themselves! Some are lawyers, professors, volunteers, teachers, parish supports, givers of retreats, financial analysts, police officers, administrators -- and we even have a Marine and a college president! They work for justice and write, call and visit government representatives to work on bringing mercy into the fabric of our country.

How has association made a difference in your life?

Being a Mercy Associate affords me the chance to walk through life with sisters and associates who believe in the same values as I do. We in Mercy are connected to so many websites and given so many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those who have no voice. The community’s research is invaluable and their references are written by theologians and deeply spiritual women and men whose years of education benefit me as the reader. My spirituality has deepened and friendships blossomed, all throughout the Americas! By answering the call, I have truly been enriched.

Do you have a favorite Scripture passage or story?

I like the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well -- I love to envision Jesus speaking with her, in light of who she was. I also love any part of Scripture concerning Mary Magdalene. She really was misrepresented, and for a woman who was so close to Jesus, she had to have been someone who brought joy and comfort to him. Oh how I'd love to have a conversation with her!

How do you pray?

With most sisters and associates, we use the Mercy Prayer Book daily as a united community. I am fulfilled by community prayer when we gather for specific occasions. And I love centering prayer, connecting with the God within us. Free-flowing conversations seem to arise and offer me solace to meet the challenges of the day. I also travel a great deal in this position, and I sense Jesus jumping in the seat right next to me before I go!

Did you see Pope Francis when he came to Philadelphia?

No, I chose to stay away from the crowds and felt his presence and loving energy right through all the electronic devices! But for him to come to the USA and to be in the Mid-Atlantic Community on Mercy Day, as he has declared the Year of Mercy to begin on December 8 was so ideal for the whole Mercy Community!

If you could have asked a favor or expressed a concern to him, what would that have been?

Oh this is a loaded question! These are my very personal thoughts, and do not reflect those necessary to become director: First, a concern expressed would have been to break the patriarchal tradition of keeping women in historic positions and recognizing their wisdom and abilities by opening the doors of leadership on many levels in the Catholic church to them! I also would ask him to expand his very loving and inclusive ways to include the LGBT community with open arms within our Catholic church. Also, I did write to him about proclaiming sainthood for Catherine McAuley, so her life story and her holy choices in life could be made known to the masses, reaching hearts and creating more help for those on the edges of society who are poor, sick and lacking in education.

What would else would you like us to know?

I am thankful that my discernment near high school graduation of whether to enter a religious community or choose a married life that would include children led me to the right choice. Having found Mercy, I am immersed in the mission and charism of the community, yet have the family life that fulfills me. How blessed can anyone be? I even get to work with Sr. Camille D'Arienzo! (Oh -- and if anyone is interested in discerning a call to this associate lifestyle, they can email me at!)

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemption, is available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

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