Guest Post by Sister Dale Jarvis, RSM
I have been a Sister of Mercy for 45 years. When I first joined the Sisters of Mercy, I moved from Miami to Maine. It would be an understatement to say that this was a big change for me; not only did I enter a new way of life by joining a religious community, I moved from one culture to another.
I was 14 years old when I knew I wanted to be a Religious Sister but it was not until I was 19 and met the Sisters of Mercy, women of service and women of compassion, did I feel I found the right community. Following your heart when it is moved by others to follow God is so important. The Charism of the Sisters of Mercy, the gift given to us by our foundress Catherine McAuley, is one of service and responding to the needs of God’s people, where ever that is. For the first 22 years of my life as a Sister of Mercy, I was a teacher. In 1991, I decided to change my ministry and to work full time in the area of Social Justice, which has always been and continues to be a passion in my life.
Just two weeks ago I returned from a trip to Haiti. I was there as a member of the Board of Trustees of Outreach to Haiti, a sponsored ministry of the Diocese of Norwich, CT. As a member of the board, I wanted to become more informed of their many ministries in Haiti. This was my second trip, but my first since the earthquake in 2010. I will be returning again next year, not to keep informing myself of the situation there, but because there are times in our lives when God beckons us back to be where the poorest and most vulnerable are. When our hearts are so moved by the plight of the poor, and we know we have the means to make a change in their lives, no matter how small, we cannot say no.
It has only been since I returned from Haiti that I have had time to process this trip. There is so much overwhelming poverty there that it dominates and it is almost impossible to process. Since I have returned, I have been so impressed by the ordinariness of their lives, knowing that each night they returned to poverty, rubble and many times violence. Over 800,000 people still live in the tent cities, 15 months after the quake. I met children coming from school to be at Hospice St. Joseph, one of the ministries in Outreach to Haiti, to have their only meal of the day. I met mothers who held their babies with tender love and care, knowing the children would be spending the night in rat infested tents. I was overwhelmed with tears at Paula’s orphanage, not because of the pain and poverty, but because of the joy and life in the children. It was at this orphanage that I first heard the sounds of children playing and heard them sing. What mixed emotions I experienced, to know those who have no parents could find joy and life in an orphanage.
For the past five years, I’ve worked as a Vocation Minister and this involves working with women who are considering becoming a Sister of Mercy. I call my time with them “The Emmaus Walk”. I walk with them as their “hearts are burning” in this journey towards the sacred, towards God’s call to Religious Life.
My Ministry involves many opportunities to spend time with young women, often when they are engaged in service projects and learning how integral this is to living a fully spiritual life. In fact, as I am writing this, I am in a small town in Mississippi called Mound Bayou where 32 high school seniors from St. Dominic’s Academy in Auburn, Maine are doing a week of service. The Sisters of Mercy, who have been here in Mound Bayou for years, run St. Gabriel Mercy Center, and offer many opportunities for young people from around the country to serve the people of the area. We give them the chance to become more aware of the spirit of Mercy and the gift of service to God’s people here in the South.
I believe this ministry of service will open up the hearts of many of these young people and move them to follow Jesus in a religious community. If a young woman today were to ask me my advice about being a Sister, I would ask her, “Have any of my words stirred something in you? Do you feel a pull at your heart to love and serve God and God’s people? Do you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, and give more than you ever thought you could?” If she answers yes, I would repeat the words of Jesus when he said to his disciples “Follow me.” I have followed for 45 years, and I have never looked back. In the words of Frances Warde, one of the first Sisters of Mercy, I can say “It is a glorious thing to be a Sister of Mercy.”
[My name is Sister Dale Jarvis, and I am a Sister of Mercy. I was born in Providence, RI, but grew up on Miami, FL. I have a twin sister who still lives in Florida. I have lived in Maine for the past 45 years, except for the four years I lived in New York City. I went to High School in Miami Florida at the Assumption Academy, a boarding school for girls. I went to college at St. Joseph’s College in Maine and got my graduate degree from the University of Maine.]