The history of Sisters of Mercy in Papua New Guinea (1956-2006): within the tradition of women called to Gospel discipleship and Christian mission


Flaherty, Teresa Anne. (2013). The history of Sisters of Mercy in Papua New Guinea (1956-2006): within the tradition of women called to Gospel discipleship and Christian mission [Thesis].
AuthorsFlaherty, Teresa Anne
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Scriptural and theological perspectives reveal that women were called to discipleship and mission in the gospels and in the early church as portrayed in the New Testament. While emphasising the essential relationship between the ‘constants’ of church teaching and the immediate historical and cultural settings in their overview of the church in its call to universal mission, Bevans & Schroeder, in Constants in Context, identified the ‘liberating and transformative model’ as one of crucial significance. This early model was eventually re-emphasised through the renewed theology of Vatican II. Despite their authentic roles being subject to misrepresentation or obliteration in canonical and historical writings, women have continued as disciples and agents of mission. The second phase of the thesis outlines the historical antecedents leading to the post-World War II missionary engagement of the Australian Sisters of Mercy in the late colonial stage in what was then the Territory of New Guinea under Australian administration. This soon became the independent nation of Papua New Guinea (1975). A selective portrayal of women as agents of mission shows new ministerial models of women religious originating in post-revolutionary France. The spread of this movement in the nineteenth century is noted in relation to a) the founding traditions of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland and their expansion and consolidation in Australia and b) the founding of missionary institutes, in particular, the Divine Word missionaries, whose early field of evangelisation was New Guinea. Twentieth century papal initiatives called for religious men and women, whose institutes were not primarily devoted to foreign missions, to be co-workers in mission, particularly in the Pacific. This appeal found a willing response among the Australian Sisters of Mercy who had recently, in response to church directives, reorganised their various congregations into Union and Federation canonical structures. The history of the Sisters of Mercy in Papua New Guinea (1956-2006) proceeds within the foundational context of the first two stages. The Sisters of Mercy, initially working in dioceses administered by the Divine Word Missionaries, eventually extended to other dioceses in the new nation. Research data are used from relevant archives, recorded in-depth interviews with Australian and Papua New Guinean Mercy Sisters and key consultants, as well as my own personal experience as a Sister of Mercy in Papua New Guinea (1964-2003). To reflect the changing contexts of mission, the findings are presented in three time-frames, 1956-69, 1970-81 and 1982-2006. This exploration shows that, following their founding traditions in a liberating and transformative paradigm as modelled in the New Testament and re-defined in Vatican II, the expatriate and indigenous sisters were challenged to new forms of initiative, adaptability, flexibility, mobility and collaboration as they branched out into emerging ministries. As they reached out in mission they were reciprocally enriched within changing social and multi-cultural contexts. As disciples of Jesus, they experienced the cycle of joys and sorrows in their own lives and in the lives of those with whom they stood in solidarity. In conclusion, the founding traditions expressed within a particular liberating and transformative model sustained the Sisters of Mercy as agents in mission in changing Melanesian (and global) contexts. These traditions are revisited in the light of contemporary theology, both of mission and of religious life.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
Final version
Publication dates01 Oct 2013
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