Tag Archives: Sisters of Mercy

Sisters are Doing it for Themselves



MMU President Laurie Hamen speaks about Sister Shari Sutherland Dec. 12, 2017, in atrium of Busse Library.

When you think of a Catholic nun, what picture comes to your mind? A “penguin outfit” and a strict disciplinarian like from “Blues Brothers?” Or is it something cute but out of place in the modern world like a sister from “Sister Act?”

aa01We had a reception today at Mount Mercy for a complex, intelligent woman who has left her mark on the university. Sister Shari Sutherland is retiring at the end of the year as VP of mission and ministry.

MMU President Laurie Hamen told a little story about Sr. Shari. The then newly minted leader of MMU was to travel with her to Omaha to be presented to a Sisters of Mercy leadership group, and thus got in a car with Sister Shari on a cold winter morning. As they started off, however, they saw someone dressed in scrubs out in the cold. Sister Shari directed Laurie to stop the car and asked, “Where are you going, friend?”

The stranger was headed to HyVee, but didn’t have any money. Sister Shari gave them some of her own, and someone got a ride to the grocery store before a new university president and nun left town.

Of course, when you think of the story, your heart is warmed by the goodness it displays. Then again, it’s also a story of quick decision making, taking risks, facing life with courage and swift action. How typical of a Sister.

I recently read an article that, sadly, as I wrote this I could not find again. But it was a reflection of how the Christian view of Mary, mother of Jesus, is sometimes flawed because we seem to think of her as meek and passive. But in the Gospel, when an angel comes to tell Mary she’ll have a baby, she doesn’t just say, “sure,” she first asks some pointed questions. And when she says “OK, God, we’ll do this,” she says it on her own, without consulting anybody. Sort of like a Sister.

Sisters are doing it for themselves. I’m not sure why Sister Shari’s retirement made me think of Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox, but it did. And while I didn’t find the most recent article on Mary that I was thinking of, I did appreciate this similar essay by Father James Martin in Slate.

Sister Shari was an encouraging presence at MMU and also a force to be reckoned with. She has spunk, intelligence, humor and backbone. I felt honored that I rang with her when there was a bell choir and occasionally was blessed by her during Mercy Week ceremonies. She was an early supporter of the idea of a Fall Faculty Series, and one of the hidden movers and shakers that helped that effort take off.


Photo from event celebrating Sister Shari’s 50th anniversary in Sisters of Mercy.

There was another theme at the retirement reception, too. It doesn’t end here. The mission of the Sisters of Mercy is carried on by those of us who attempt to understand the spirit of Mercy, and who work and teach at a Mercy University.

Sister Shari, you were part of the gas in the tank at MMU. Your smile and grace and humor and strength will be sorely missed. On the other hand, if the baton gets passed, the next runner must run. The university, like the dude, abides. And the best way to honor you Sister Shari, I suppose, is to keep the faith, light the fire, work the mission, teach the students and carry on.

Before that, however, let me pause and say thanks for the help you gave me and all of us at MMU in ways big and small.

And, also, a song that makes me think of both Mary and of you, Sister Shari:


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Mercy Week & Mother Nature


Father Tony Adawu talking about Pope Francis and Mercy. My wife, a nursing faculty member and OB nurse, was impressed Francis clearly knows how to hold a baby.

Here we go again. Just at the end of Mercy Week 2016, as we celebrate Mount Mercy’s heritage as a Sisters of Mercy institution, we have a reminder that the Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow—a vow of service. So service is part of the ethos of MMU.

In 2008, when devastating floods destroyed neighborhoods, Mount Mercy became a staging area for Iowa National Guard troops called in to help with the disaster. But that flood took place in summer—we’re facing the Flood of 2016 in the midst of a semester.

The good news, knock on wood, is the crest is not expected to reach the 2008 level. But it will be bad, and it will do some damage to some culturally important parts of Cedar Rapids—Czech Village and New Bo, for example.

And one reason that the Flood of 2016 might not be as devastating as 2008 is whole areas wiped out by the earlier flood have left empty patches of land where once vibrant neighborhoods stood.

In eight years, lots of plans have been slowly made to protect Cedar Rapids from flooding, but little has been done. Here’s hoping Mother Nature shows us some mercy—may this be a “brush-back pitch” that gives us fair warning, rather than the gut punch that 2008 was. And may it spur government, especially the federal government which provides the most finding for flood protection and must approve plans, into action.

Anyway, Mercy Week continued on campus today, with several fine events. In a morning class, which had three sections combined for the presentation, Sister Jeanne Christensen from Kansas City spoke about human trafficking, and showed this video.

She noted that trafficking can impact anybody, and can involve enslaving another person through three strategies: Force, often physical abuse; fraud, making false promises; and coercion, or various kinds of threats, such as threatening to embarrass someone by revealing their secrets.

One theme of her presentation is that local law enforcement often treats the virtual slaves engaged in sex trade as criminals, when they need help and treatment. As the woman in the video said of her own experience: “Being arrested over and over again did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Anyway, at least the woman in the video was able to escape from her pimp. Sister Jeanne brought home the reality that slavery is not really something we left behind in history, but rather is something that has become a modern, shadowy reality.


Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to three 8 a.m. classes. By being there, she said, “We have all earned sainthood.”

The mood was lighter at lunch today when Father Tony Adawu spoke of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. He had us write down who we would want to show mercy to—and at the end noted few of us had included ourselves.

“It’s OK to be merciful with yourself,” he said. Well, that’s a relief, because I managed to accidentally erase a whole bunch of very fine images I shot of Mercy Week events today—I copied them to my computer without realizing I had files of the same name, and when the computer asked if I wanted to copy over the old files, I said “no.” I assumed I had accidentally copied the files twice and formatted my SD card before I checked.

Ouch. Mercy me.

Anyway, sadly many of the gone images were of the Peace March that took place at 11:30, but at least I posted two of those images before the fiasco. I lost some good ones—I really liked a few I shot at the end after the group reach the Peace Pole, but there’s not use crying over spilled pixels, especially when an impending flood helps make little tragedies seem appropriately tiny.


Freshman Kasey Kaimann, who wrote a op/ed reflection on today’s presentation for the MMU Times. And, Times reporters note–she was done with her story by 4 p.m. Just saying.

Back to Father Tony—to illustrate Mercy, he talked about a man in his home town in Ghana, Kwesi Essel Koomson, recognized girls in the town had little educational opportunities. He was a driving force in setting up a new girls’ school, and in coming up with a financial incentive so that local fishing families would send their daughters to school rather than off to work.

Sadly, Koomson grew sick and died a few years ago, but the school is continuing the grow, Father Tony noted.

Well, it’s good to know that parts of stories sometimes turn out well. I hope that is the case with the Flood of 2016—may it turn out to be less than we fear and puny compared to 2008. Inevitably, though, it will hurt some. May we find ways to show them mercy.

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Recalling A Week of Mercy

Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to an MMU group about the Mercy House in Dublin, Ireland, and the mission of the sisters of Mercy. Note the large Flat Catherine behind her. They both have blue eyes.

Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to an MMU group about the Mercy House in Dublin, Ireland, and the mission of the sisters of Mercy. Note the large Flat Catherine behind her. They both have blue eyes.

I didn’t make it to all of the “Mercy and Mission Week” activities at Mount Mercy University that I would have liked to, but what I did attend resonated with me.

For one thing, Sister Karen Donahue gave an interesting presentation about corporate power and reach to a freshman class my wife and I teach. We put our two sections together for her. I liked the way she engaged students by having them list products based on the branch icons she displayed, and then brought it together by noting that all of the 30 or more icons represent trademarks of just three corporations.

Honestly, Sister Karen, the students aren’t usually that quiet. But it was early in the morning and you could tell. The class is on media—and one point I will discuss in follow up is that our media system is corporate driven because it’s primarily based on ad revenue.

Sister Karen Donahue speaks to my 8 a.m. Thursday class on media symbolism.

Sister Karen Donahue speaks to my 8 a.m. Thursday class on media symbolism.

That was at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. At noon the same day, there was a “Lunch and Learn” program called “Watering the Roots at the Wellspring of Mercy” presented by Sister Jeanne Christensen.

I haven’t been to Dublin, nor have I seen the Mercy House that she showed pictures of, but I certainly would like to do both. Of course, I would have been willing before the presentation, but I would like to do both even more now. The presentation proved to be thought provoking, as the audience had a lively discussion about what MMU’s Mercy identity means.

Among other things, the sisters seem guardedly optimistic about Pope Francis. Guardedly optimistic about Pope Francis—I guess that would describe many humans at this point.

Anyway, I enjoyed both events. I also attended a walking tour of the campus, although my only complaint about that is we didn’t walk enough—we only went down a sidewalk about 20yards and stayed there to chat. I would have enjoyed seeing more, even if most of it would have been familiar to me.

And I missed some events. I was too busy to make it to the U Center Friday for a cupcake or Club Friday snack. I also was teaching during the anniversary Mass on Tuesday. I decided I would instead go to Mass on Wednesday, but time got away from me that morning—I was rushing to get some grading done and didn’t finish before noon.

So it goes. I still feel pretty good about the week. You can’t attend everything, and what I did attend (or what came to class) was interesting.

I feel lucky to be teaching at a Mercy institution. The Sisters of Mercy are a vibrant, educated, interesting group of women who have a pretty clear mission.

It’s Monday and I’m finishing my second cup of coffee before I hop on my bike and pedal to campus. After last week, I feel a bit luckier going there. In a small way, I would say that makes “Mission and Mercy Week” a success, at least for me.

So thank you, Sisters Karen and Jeanne and all of the others involved in last week. And thank you Sister Shari Sutherland, for your ongoing work at MMU to keep the spirit of the sisters visible and embedded in all we do.

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