Realise your potential, respond to the call

8 August 2017
Sr Catherine Ryan. Image: Carmela Roche/Parramatta Advertiser.

National Vocations Awareness Week: 6-13 August 2017

Along with the miraculous gift of life at our conception, each of us has received the call to realise our full potential throughout our life’s journey. I see this as the primary vocation of every person: the call to become fully human and fully alive, and so reflect God’s image in our own unique way, whatever our circumstances in life. Whether we live out the call of the Divine in the married, single, consecrated or priestly life, our response to God’s call matures and deepens along life’s journey as we ourselves mature and attune ourselves to the ongoing stirrings of the Spirit in the changing circumstances of our lives.

Looking back on my own vocation story as a Sister of Mercy I recognise the deepening and ongoing call of God’s Spirit which has drawn me over and over again, giving me the opportunity to reaffirm my ‘yes’ to the call I first heard almost sixty years ago.

It was during my last year of high school, as I discerned my next steps in life, that I felt a desire to give my whole self to God as a religious. I considered several congregations but was deeply attracted to the Sisters of Mercy having observed their practical compassionate response to those in need.

And so it was that in 1960, at the age of seventeen, I entered the Convent of Mercy Parramatta and, after six months’ probation, commenced a two year novitiate to be followed by five years in temporary vows.  During this period of discernment my companions and I were enculturated into a form of religious life that was shortly to undergo an extended period of ‘aggiornamento’ and renewal in response to the call of the Second Vatican Council.

It was accepted that my vow of obedience made me available to be assigned by the Congregation Leader wherever the needs of the congregation’s mission required. For almost twenty seven years my ministry appointments were in the field of primary education and in the way of those times, I received my ‘move’ to a new school and community in mid January via a noticeboard bulletin or sometimes in short note from the Congregation Leader.

Through my years in education I delighted in leading children in the discovery of learning. I took seriously my role as an educator to select experiences – poetry, music, challenges and prayer – that could influence and develop each child’s capacity to respond to God’s call to live life to the full.

On several occasions during the second half of my religious life and in different ways, I have received a call to move in another direction within the framework of my Mercy vocation. Each time I have taken an extended period of discernment and been supported by my Mercy Congregation.

In the late eighties the HIV/AIDS epidemic was accompanied by another epidemic of great fear, judgement and discrimination. Those affected were marginalised and treated with loathing. I remember seeing a program about an Irish priest ministering to a group of HIV positive men in LA. His superiors withdrew him from his post and recalled him to Ireland because it was seen as scandalous for him to be associating with the gay community who were most affected by this mysterious illness.

I was moved with disbelief and anger that representatives of Christ’s Church would act so judgmentally. Where, I asked myself, would Jesus be if not among the marginalised of today as he was among the outcasts of his time. That experience of anger was the call of the Spirit to me to move to the margins in the name of our God of mercy and compassion. The call was affirmed by Bishop Bede Heather who appointed me as chaplain to the new HIV/AIDS Ministry in the Diocese of Parramatta. Many lay people and religious soon joined with me in the ministry based at our respite care centre named Bethany – a place where Jesus experienced the welcome of friends.

Another experience of being called by the Spirit in my life was through the call by the sisters of my congregation in Chapter to the ministry of leadership. After having served as councillor for six years, I was elected as Congregation Vicar in 2004 and then as Congregation Leader in 2010. Our Mercy Constitutions enjoin leaders to hold authority as a service of love following Christ’s lesson of servant-leadership. These years of leadership have been privileged and greatly enriched by the dedication of our coworkers in our mercy mission.

Last year, in preparing my report to the congregation after my term of leadership I reflected on the ongoing contribution of our Mercy women to the mission of the Church. Again I experienced a strong movement of the Spirit. This time I was troubled by the tensions and ambiguities we experience as women in our Church which struggles to find expression of its belief that in the new creation ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female for you are all one in Christ’ (Gal 3:27-29).  I resolved not to dismiss the unease but to discern it at a later date as a possible call.

Unexpectedly, this sense of call became a reality in when the newly installed Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv invited me to become a member of his Curia as a Chancellor in the Diocese of Parramatta. Again, with the support of my Congregation, I have accepted the invitation as a call to serve Christ’s mission. It is another stage in my journey as a Mercy woman in the Church.

Long ago, as a new postulant, I met a frail, elderly sister at St Michael’s Convent, Baulkham Hills. She grasped my hands and earnestly asked my prayers for her as she spent her days waiting for the “great call”. Now, having moved to Baulkham Hills myself, I often think of her: a sister who, after a long life of fidelity to her call to follow Jesus Christ by taking part of his mission of mercy, waited patiently for his call to surrender herself to him completely in death: the last response of her life of steadfast love and mercy.

Whatever our vocation and the path we have followed, may we each be ready to respond to that call at the end of our journey: Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

By Sister Catherine Ryan RSM

National Vocations Awareness Week: 6-13 August 2017

The Catholic Church in Australia will celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week from the 6th – 13th of August. This annual event is a time to pray for vocations to the Married, Consecrated, Ordained and Single States of Life. It is also a week to reflect on and celebrate our own vocations.

The first Sunday is set aside to pray for vocations to the Single life and Married life.

The second Sunday focuses on Ordained life and Consecrated Life.

Throughout this week, communities are encouraged to share about God’s call, and the many ways we can respond to it. To find out more about priesthood, Holy Spirit Seminary and vocations in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit

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