PARSIPPANY, N.J. -- Mercy Sister Mary Waskowiak, president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, compared leadership to the story of Exodus in Scripture that took the Israelites on a long journey across the desert.
"It's the story of who is in charge, and it's certainly not the leaders," she said April 8 to laughter among participants at the Sisters of Mercy mid-Atlantic assembly at the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany, N.J. About 500 sisters representing portions of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania participated in the conference to pray, discern a direction for the next five years and choose new leadership.
Elected to five-year terms were Mercy Sisters Patricia Vetrano, president; Kathleen Keenan, vice president; and Catherine Darcy, Honora Nicholson and Patricia Smith, leadership team members. Their terms begin July 1.
In her talk on a day when sisters were discerning new leaders, Sister Mary cited humility, inspiration, learning from experiences and the need to be contemplative and qualities for good leadership.
"The school of leadership is a holy, human experience," she said.
Mercy Sister Margaret Farley challenged assembly participants April 6 to be examples of forgiveness and live a crucified love that, tried by fire, survives and enables us to lay down our lives for others.
"Every great love is a crucified love," said Sister Margaret in a talk titled "Mercy Under the Sign of the Cross and Resurrection." She said Jesus and Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, were examples of those who lived that love.
"It holds steady and strong no matter what must be borne; no matter what failings must be overcome, accepted or forgiven; no matter what limits are experienced in day-to-day living and working together; no matter what threatens from external forces," she said.
A member of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community, Sister Margaret is an ethicist and former professor at the Yale Divinity School. She co-founded the All-Africa Conference, a project intended to bring together African women religious to develop strategies for responding to the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
In a wide-ranging keynote address, Sister Margaret addressed situations in society, the church and Mercy community. She said many in the community are aging, but, paraphrasing the words of Mark Twain when his obituary was prematurely published, "Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated."
Quoting theologian Karl Rahner, she said, "Not everyone gets to live into old age, but for anyone who does, it must be part of their vocation."
She said many sisters still have much to do regarding relationships and ministries.
Sister Margaret described forgiveness as the most important spiritual work of mercy. She called participants to a model of ministry rooted in John's Gospel in which Jesus says, "As God has loved me, so I have loved you; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another."
"This is the model for love and for the deeds of love. It is a model not of hierarchy and subordination, but of equality and mutuality." she said. "Forgive. If not you, then who else?"
The mid-Atlantic community is one of five reconfigured communities of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Based in Merion, Pa., it also includes Dallas, Pa.; New York; New Jersey; and Brooklyn.