By Sister Kathy Carr, BVM
Special to The Witness
“The church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.” -Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls all Christians to respond wholeheartedly to the call to be people of mercy—loving and compassionate. No matter what our vocation in life, each of us is called to follow Christ in his movement of love, in his going forth to meet humanity with mercy and love.
As lay Associates and Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our very Constitutions call us to this way of life:
“Compelled by the example and word of Mary Frances Clarke in her sensitive response to critical human situations, we seek out and attend to those in need, whatever this may require of us.”
-BVM Constitutions #15
There are myriad ways in which BVMs and associates seek to do this, and here in Dubuque we have a prime example of an associate who lives out this value of mercy. Marilyn Heinz has been a member of St. Patrick Parish for 60 years. Some years ago she and some other women in the parish started a Wednesday evening meal for the Lenten season for those in the area who were in need of a decent hot meal. The meal program was appreciated so much, that they have continued the meal every Wednesday for 30 years.
Marilyn helps to raise money, get food donations, and organize various groups to come and help each week with the meal: many different church groups, confirmation classes, women religious and school groups. She works hard to make the environment especially appealing for children, to make it a safe place where they and their families are welcome. Children and parents often color together as they gather before the meal, and the children’s art work is hung on the walls throughout the week for all groups who gather there to appreciate. It’s the joy and sense of community that is provided at the weekly meal that keeps Marilyn coming back week after week.
This past Ash Wednesday, several BVMs and associates helped with the evening meal.
“Being with the dinner guests at St. Patrick reminds me that we are all part of a world that needs one another,” shares Sister Jean Gordon, BVM. And Sister Diane Rapozo, BVM, adds, “Having conversations with the people made me realize that I must go further than serving a meal. I need to contact elected officials to see what we can do to break the unjust economic system.”
In addition to all her work at St. Patrick’s, Marilyn is also a regular volunteer at the Mt. Carmel BVM Motherhouse, serving as a companion for sisters going to medical appointments and as a eucharistic minister at the infirmary chapel. According to Marilyn, all of this outreach is what she feels called to do and is a natural outgrowth of her years of working for the BVMs at their infirmary.
Like Pope Francis, Marilyn believes that “mercy is the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of [their] brothers and sisters on the path of life.” (Papal bull on Jubilee Year of Mercy) May we all celebrate this “Year of Mercy” with a heart full of mercy!
Sister Kathy Carr, BVM, is coordinator of BVM initial membership. This article is part of the DAVA (Dubuque Area Vocation Association) series on religious congregations and the virtue of mercy.
Contributed photo. Sister Donard Collins, BVM, (left), serves a Wednesday night meal with Marilyn Heinz, BVM associate, (right), at St. Patrick Parish in Dubuque. Heinz helped start the meal for those in need about 30 years ago.