On October 12th and 13th, all roads led to the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel where the 2023 Mercy Education Conference was held. Hosted by the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica (SOM), and spearheaded by Mercy Education, the 41st annual conference was held under the theme: “Earth, one of the five Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy,” and explored issues surrounding the climate crisis and environmental justice. In particular, the event focused on advocacy and action within and outside of the SOM-sponsored Mercy schools as it relates to climate resilience and climate change issues. The conference was attended by principals, teachers and board members of 55 institutions within the Mercy group of schools across the Americas.
The first day of the conference started off strong with a warm welcome from Kimberly Baxter (Associate Director for Programs and Services, Mercy Education) and Marcia Tai Chun (Chief Executive Officer at the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica); both of whom were integral to the planning of this very special event. Their words reminded those present of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ commitment to “work to sustain all life by caring for Earth’s ecosystems, addressing climate change, advocating for the right to clean water and committing to ecological conversion.” After the opening statements, persons were greeted by former Minister of Education, Deacon Ronald Thwaites, who has a long connection to the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica. Soon after, the audience was treated to a deeply moving performance of the ‘Circle of Mercy’ song by students of the Mercy Group of Schools in Jamaica. The resulting standing ovation was a testament to the degree to which persons were touched by this rendition.
The day’s keynote address was given by Sr. Angela Reed, RSM (the Head of Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action Office), who reaffirmed the commitment of the Sisters of Mercy to care for Earth and explained the important work of Mercy Global Action (i.e. Mercy International Association’s international justice arm which has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council), and others who champion environmental justice. She urged each person to commit to true “ecological conversion”, by rejecting harmful worldviews and practices such as unsustainable economic growth; the exploitation of nature; overconsumption; and inequality, in favour of treating all living beings with respect and dignity. This idea was further explored by Colleen Swain (the Leadership Development and Advocacy Associate with Mercy International Association), who facilitated small group discussions aimed at examining how persons can commit to ecological conversion through personal environmental practices.
The talks were concluded with a panel discussion segment facilitated by Kimberley Baxter which featured Carolina Coceres (the co-General Director and co-Legal Representative at Colegio Santa Ethnea, Bella Vista, Argentina), along with Maria Mutidjo, and Sister Patricia Donlin, RSM – both passionate educators. These remarkable women raised issues related to the Mercy curriculum; the “Laudato Si” (i.e. the second encyclical of Pope Francis which makes a case for global sustainable action); the impact of environmental concerns on people; the destructive consequences of mankind’s actions on the Earth; and ways of using knowledge to create positive action. This led to further conversation among participants who shared stories and ideas about speaking the truth to the powers that be regarding ecological issues; the need to acknowledge water inequalities in developed countries as well as developing ones; and ways of engaging students in caring for the Earth.
The first day of the conference ended on an inspiring and sentimental note as Mercy Educators, Sandy Flaherty and Angie Simonetti, were named as the recipients of the Sr. Corinne Raven Mercy Education Leadership Award. These hardworking educators tearfully accepted the award and reflected on how Sr. Corrine touched their lives and impacted their careers in education. Once the Conference was wrapped up for the day, attendees made their way to partake in the Liturgy at the Christ the King Chapel which is nestled in the heart of the Alpha Complex.
This was closely followed by a sumptuous dinner (catered by St. John Bosco Vocational Training Centre) and concert experience at the Alpha School of Music Courtyard. All evening long, guests were treated to mouth-watering Jamaican cuisine; warm, friendly company; and the dulcet tones of student musicians from the local Mercy group of schools as they performed crowd pleasing songs from Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the South and North Americas. The evening’s events were just some in a week-long series of additional activities being held in tandem with the conference which, earlier in the week, included a tour of the nine Mercy schools in Jamaica and a Kingston-based luncheon for the Mercy Education board members.