A Synodal Journey
As we move towards the first session of the Synod on Synodality, the Australian Church has been deepening its understanding of the nature of synodality. We have been exploring what the call to ‘journeying together’ with openness to the Spirit means and are seeking ways to respond to the invitation to be a synodal Church. One example of such a journey is the establishment and development of Mercy Ministry Companions [https://www.mercyministrycompanions.org.au/].
Mercy Ministry Companions (MMC) is Australia’s newest ministerial public juridic person (MPJP), established on 3 December 2021 at the instigation of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea (ISMAPNG). MMC’s journey, however, commenced four years earlier at the ISMAPNG’s 2017 Chapter, which envisaged a new era of stewardship for the Institute’s incorporated ministries across community services, health and aged care, and education to ensure that they “could flourish into the future”. This timeline and the relational but exacting processes that led to MMC’s establishment are indicative of what it means to proceed in a synodal way.
To this end, the Institute Leadership Team appointed a Future Governance Working Party in 2018 to explore potential new canonical and civil governance options for its incorporated ministries. The Future Governance Working Party recommended the establishment of a new MPJP to the Institute Leadership Team. The subsequent Institute PJP Transition Group advanced this recommendation and in early 2021 the Institute petitioned Rome for a new MPJP called Mercy Ministry Companions, which was approved by decree of the Holy See on 24 September 2021. Throughout these processes, the Sisters of Mercy, their staff, advisers and other stakeholders were actively involved in providing input and guiding the development of the new entity and accompanying the journey in prayer.
MPJPs are an innovative model of lay leadership in the Catholic Church, instigated by religious institutes to enable their ministries to continue as works of the Church. With the establishment of the new Church authority, MMC, ISMAPNG transferred stewardship of incorporated ministries from the Institute Leadership Team to the MMC Trustee Directors. The Trustee Directors, who are appointed by the Institute Leadership Team, are now the canonical stewards of the ministries as well as Directors of the civil company associated with MMC. In Australia there are currently other 12 MPJPs, like MMC, and their umbrella body is the Association of Ministerial PJPs [https://ampjp.org.au/about-mpjps/].
Mercy Ministry Companions is now responsible for the community service, health and aged care, and education ministries within Mercy Community Services Australia Ltd (which encompasses Mackillop Family Services, McAuley Community Services for Women, Mercy Connect and Mercy Services), Mercy Education Ltd and Mercy Health Australia Ltd, respectively. The ministries are across all Australian States and Territories except Tasmania. Through their 13,000 staff, they provide care to 150,000 patients each year, educate over 14,000 students, provide in- and out-of-home care to nearly 15,000 elderly persons, assist over 6,000 families, women and children and deliver services to around 700 disability clients. MMC has a commitment to collaborations for the sake of the mission, and to communio within, across and beyond the ministries.
An aspect of MMC’s synodal journey has been two other religious institutes, namely the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, entrusting a ministry to MMC. With the Sisters of Mercy, these congregations had jointly been the canonical stewards of MacKillop Family Services. During the discernment processes leading to MMC, the Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers and Sisters of St Joseph took the decision to transfer canonical governance to MMC and all their charisms are treasured across MacKillop Family Services and enrich the new MPJP.
Mercy Ministry Companions is blessed in the name conferred on the new MPJP by the Institute. Companions, by definition, are ‘journeying together’. The name has been a constant ‘cue’ in the establishment of MMC: Trustee Directors, those in MMC ministry governance and leadership roles, staff and volunteers across the ministries, and other key stakeholders are all integral to the development of MMC and called to nurture and develop this new Church agency. In ‘journeying together’, the whole is greater than the parts – each member of MMC is invited to ‘shape’ the mission of Mercy going forward and to embody the compassion, hospitality, integrity, care, justice and service which characterise the mission of Mercy.
The first MMC national conference in October 2022 brought together over 100 stakeholders from across the ministries. Entitled “Companions: Stronger together”, it was planned by a cross-ministry working party. The conference had a focus on ‘journeying together’ and, through speakers, workshops and other activities, sought to deepen participants’ understanding of co-responsibility for the MMC mission. One particular aspect is illustrative of the focus – through facilitated sessions and a workshop, participants were invited to contribute to the development of mission and vision statements for MMC as well as identifying MMC’s values. Shared values emerged definitively during the conference. Since the conference, the MMC Formation Committee has ‘extracted’ draft mission and vision statements from the wide-ranging and inspiring input received during the conference and the Trustee Directors will now invite the ministries to consider the draft statements and offer refinements.
ISMAPNG gifted a logo to MMC – its symbolism includes the following:
The logo of Mercy Ministry Companions includes an open circle. A circle is often used to represent companionship, community and sharing. It is also a symbol of the Body of Christ. For Mercy Ministry Companions it represents the shared purpose of the ministries and their contribution to and participation in “the one mercy mission”.
All across MMC are now companions on its journey as Australia’s newest MPJP – in the words of Pope Francis at the opening of the Synod on Synodality in 2021: “In the one People of God, therefore, let us journey together, in order to experience a Church that receives and lives this gift of unity, and is open to the voice of the Spirit”.