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Feeling the Spirit

This is the second installment in the “Charism Corner” series that will appear monthly in Flash, written by Sister Regina Ward, RSM, Associate Director for Mission for Mercy Education. The series focuses on our Mercy charism and how we can express it within our school communities. Read the first installment here.

While I was Head of School at Merion Mercy Academy, I would often hear families relate that they could “just feel the spirit” when they walked in the door.

At a recent visit to Mercyhurst Preparatory School, a parent spoke about her son’s visit to the school on a shadow day. The student, reluctant to attend in the morning, got into the car after his visit and reported, “Mom, I could feel God’s presence in that school.”

The feeling these parents and student spoke about focused on the experience of charism. Sometimes that feeling can’t be explained, but, if it is authentic, it is palpable and inviting. The opposite feeling can also be present when the charism isn’t being lived and dissension is felt in the school.

Hospitality, inclusion, care, respect, service, joy – these are all experiences that students feel when charism is alive. Charism can’t be dictated, only embraced and lived. Charism isn’t defined in policies, but shown by example. Charism is part of the traditions, and part of the way we treat one another. Charism carries the heart of the school; it is dynamic and powerful. Charism is our way of life on a day-to-day basis. Charism doesn’t happen by chance; it is fragile and intentionally developed. Charism is a gift that needs to be tended and nurtured. Charism in our schools is Mercy.

Charism is not perfection, and sometimes tough love is part of charism. Students come to our schools to be formed and reformed into the best rendition of themselves. Of course, there are parents, teachers and services that guide that transformation. It is the encounters, the ability to fail and grow, that enables transformation to happen. It is the nurturing in a loving and accepting atmosphere. Mercy has been defined as the ability to enter into the chaos of the other, and support them as they engage that chaos and come through it. Transformation isn’t always pretty, but it can be done because the person knows they are loved and accepted.

Enabling each person to be themselves within a loving environment; diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; respecting the dignity of each person as we challenge them to be their best self—this is all following in the footsteps of Jesus and Catherine in the spirit of Mercy.

It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a committed administration, faculty, staff and student body to tend and nurture charism. It takes thought, conversation and intentionality to create an atmosphere of Mercy. It is this attention and care that sustains the charism of Mercy.

When all of these qualities are in place, they become the fabric of the life and infrastructure of the school. The school is a safe and happy place to be. Traditions grow, and pride in being a person of Mercy becomes a garment that each unique graduate wears as they stand ready to “serve a vulnerable world” (Mercy Education Mission Statement).

This article was originally published in Flash, the weekly e-newsletter of Mercy Education. Subscribe here.

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