Mercy Sr. Margaret Dempsey: 'I can make a difference because I am the church'

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Mercy Sr. Margaret Dempsey
Lives in:
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Sr. Camille: Margee, I've known you for a very long time. We served in congregational leadership together and I consider you one of the most generous people I've ever met. You've never denied a request or ignored a challenge. Surely many people have contributed to your approach to life; however, I wonder if you can identify some who have been most influential? Where and with whom did you spend your childhood?

Dempsey: My father died when I was seven years old, and my sisters and brother were 10 years older than I, so I mostly was just with my mother and aunt in Flatbush. 

Where did you go to school?

I am a proud graduate of St. Jerome and Catherine McAuley High School. I have my Bachelor of Arts from Brentwood College, my Master of Science in religious education from Fordham and my Master of Science in educational leadership from Bank Street College.

Did any teacher help form you?

Yes, Mercy Sr. Mary Raymond from high school and grammar school; Mercy Sr. Jeanne McCarthy, from McAuley High School; St. Joseph Sr. James Eugene and St. Joseph Sr. Margaret Mary Quinn from Brentwood; and Dr. Lorraine Monroe from Bank Street. They all helped me to see my gifts and to share them.

What drew you to the Sisters of Mercy?

The Sisters of Mercy I knew in Brooklyn were always kind and happy. Sr. Jeanne McCarthy actually invited me and I felt like if she thought I could do it, then I could do it.

What gifts did you bring to community?

Faith, sense of community and the gift of laughter and generosity.

What gifts did you receive from community?

Faith, love, support and encouragement.

How has religious life changed since you entered?

We now have much more freedom to live the mission without the structures and rules of 50 years ago.

What ministries have you had?

Teacher, fifth grade through 12th grade, vocation director, principal and president of McAuley High School, and the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy, Brooklyn, MercyFirst.

Which meant most to you?

I have always loved what I have done in ministry, but my time in community leadership was really very growth producing and my years in McAuley were very special.

Where and with whom do you live?

I live in a community house on 64th Street in Bay Ridge and with Sr. Rosemary Maguire.

How does your current living experience differ from earlier ones?

I have been lucky all through my 50 years. I have always lived with people who were filled with faith and open to relationship.

How do you pray?

I am committed to Sunday liturgy and I spend quiet time to meditate and to read at least three times a week. I believe in a creation-centered spirituality and I share prayer in the house and with our associates.

How do you relate to associates?

I have been involved and sharing with associates since they were formed in 1976. 

What does our church offer you?

Solace, companions of the journey, circle of believers to support and challenge. 

What does it ask of you?

Patience and belief that hope is possible and I can make a difference because I am the church. 

Are you particularly drawn to any corporal or spiritual work of mercy?

Encourage the sick by visiting and writing. Educate the ignorant.

Please explain.

I believe that as Pope Francis has said, we are the mercy of God.

What challenges do you face?

Being able to help the Sisters of Mercy to center more on our mission and to share our finances and resources with the poor.

How do you relax?

Vacation -- have been to all 50 states and nine out of the 10 provinces of Canada. Being with friends, watching the Mets and Giants, retreats, reading, watching television.

How would you describe contemporary religious life to someone interested in exploring it?

Following of Jesus Christ through the mission of mercy and having companions of the journey to support you. 

What else would you like us to know?

I have a beautiful family. My sister Mary and her husband Gerard and my sister-in-law Pat are very special to me. I have 16 nieces and nephews and 29 great nieces and nephews. Having lost my sister Joan in 2011 and my brother Eddie in 2012, I have come to live each day with special awareness and gratitude for the gift of life. I like to have fun.

And, Margee, you're great at creating fun for others!

[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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