Care for Creation the Focus of 41st Annual Mercy Education Conference in Kingston

With a wave of the Jamaican flag and Bob Marley’s “One Love” resounding through the room, Kimberly Baxter, Associate Director for Programs and Services for Mercy Education, opened the 41st annual Mercy Education Conference, held October 12-13, 2023, in Kingston, Jamaica. Together the 190 representatives from 44 Mercy schools joined in the singing: “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel alright.”

This spirit of unity continued throughout the two-day event, themed “Earth Justice: Our Mercy Commitment to Care for Creation.” Participants committed to ecological conversion both through personal environmental practices and through initiatives and curriculum implemented within their school communities.

Three keynote speakers at the event explored different aspects of Earth, one of the five Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy. Beginning with the contemplative practice of Dadirri, Sister Angela Reed, RSM, Ph.D., head of Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action Office, challenged participants to consider: “What is your place in the world?” She called attendees to deep conversion in ecological practices, reminding them, “We are Earth beings, not merely human beings.”

The second keynote speaker, Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, CEO of the Jamaica Environmental Trust, brought to light the existing environmental situation in the Caribbean, the role we as humans play in that reality, and ways to encourage a healthy environment and greater resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The conference was concluded with a profound message from Meera Karunananthan, former director of Blue Planet Project and professor at Carleton University in Canada. Meera challenged participants to consider the impact of capitalism on the environment. She emphasized four R’s to put into practice: Resist, Reclaim, Redistribute and Reimagine.

In addition to the keynote speakers, break-out sessions highlighted the Mercy response to the climate crisis. Marianne Comfort of the Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team and Sister Tita Lopez, RSM, missionary in Panama, shared the devastating realities of extractive practices on the land for indigenous people in Panama.

They offered ways in which to advocate for those most impacted by climate change. Marianne encouraged participants to ask, “Who is calling you to action, and how do you respond to that call?”

Colleen Swain from Mercy Global Action discussed how Sisters of Mercy and their partners are responding to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor around the world. She demonstrated the way in which climate change is impacting each of the Critical Concerns and utilized the Earth Cube as a reflection tool for personal and collective transformation.

A “fireside chat” with three panelists — Carolina Cóceres, co-General Director and co-Legal Representative at Colegio Santa Ethnea in Argentina; Sister Patricia Donlin, RSM, theology teacher at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in the United States; and Maria Mutidjo, a dedicated educator in Jamaica — provided perspective on how climate change is impacting their respective countries in similar and varied ways.

Participants also explored a digital exposition which featured a collection of activities and lesson plans focused on care for creation submitted by Mercy educators across the system.

The location of the conference in Kingston, Jamaica, was integral to the theme of the event and also offered attendees a unique experience of Mercy hospitality. This included daily prayer facilitated by representatives from the Jamaican Mercy schools, delicious local foods catered by students at St. John Bosco Vocational Training Centre and a concert by students and faculty at Alpha School of Music.

Participants also toured the schools on the Alpha campus in Kingston.

The album also includes photos from a tour of the Jamaican education ministries in Kingston and Mandeville enjoyed by the Mercy Education Board of Directors and staff in the days preceding the conference.

On behalf of Mercy Education: Thank you to the host schools in Jamaica, the speakers, the members of the Mercy Education Conference Committee, participants who traveled from around the world to attend and everyone who helped make this year’s event so memorable and inspiring.

We also express our gratitude to leaders of the Sisters of Mercy who were in attendance: Sisters Terri Bednarz and Maureen King from the Institute Leadership Team and Institute Ministers Sisters Virgencita Alegado, Ginger Andrews, Michelle Gorman and Helen Libo-on. Thank you also to members of the Mercy Education Board of Directors who participated: Sister Michele Aronica, RSM, Colleen Bonar, Sister Linda Falquette, RSM, David Levy, Danielle Lyman Torres, Christine Basque Malloy, Marcia Penn, Maria del Mar Peydro, Chairman Terry Quinn, Sister Pat Smith, RSM, Marcia Tai Chun and Bill Valade.

In the spirit of Mercy let us embrace all we have learned and experienced and share it within to our school communities!