By Sister Sylvia Comer ’62, RSM & Sister Mary George O’Toole ’51, Hon. ’90, RSM
Pope Francis’s call for a Holy Year of Mercy is what stirred the metaphorical ashes here at Saint Joseph’s College, causing an intense fire to burst forth, igniting energy and renewing fervor in the hearts of those who read the the Papal Bull, Misericordiae Vultus (in English, “The Face of Mercy”).
With the formation of a special committee, the Mercy Task Force, at the start of 2016, this fire has continued to burn evermore brightly, generating ideas and activities that flow from the corporal and spiritual works of mercy which are so deeply rooted in our College mission and tradition.
The first event to commemorate this Jubilee Year is now a warm memory; on January 27, members of the College community gathered around our very own Holy Door of Mercy for a ceremony to bless the erected entrance way.
Happily, the Door continues to be utilized at many other special events throughout the year, including Commencement, as a call to our staff, students, and faculty to receive mercy, to extend mercy, and to live mercy. Since the opening of the Door of Mercy, there is a whole renewed emphasis on the College’s core values. Presently, throughout the campus, one sees the first of many posters that serve to celebrate our value of compassion, another word for mercy. Other posters will follow throughout the months ahead.
If you have a chance to visit Pearson’s Café, you might also notice that the doors you enter through have been painted red, the same red as our Holy Door. Why this color? Red is always connected with the quality of mercy. (Christ shed His blood for each of us in the ultimate act of love and forgiveness.) These doors therefore remind all who pass through them of this Jubilee Year.
The task force has further concluded that the Year of Mercy is a fitting time to revive a College-sponsored Day of Service for all faculty and staff, to take place following graduation. Such an occasion not only provides a great opportunity to serve others in their need, but also enriches the community aspect of our life together here on campus.
In the fall, we’re excited to share that plans are in place to again present the Values In Practice (VIP) academic programs which gather together faculty, staff, and students for inter-disciplinary presentations and discussions tying into our core values and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These gatherings serve to again bring the community together and enhance our understanding of the essential components that make us who we are.
This article only identifies a few of the projects that have emerged thus far to remind and encourage our community to live mercy, but we hope that, wherever you are reading this, you’ll join us in serving as signs of God’s mercy, always and especially during this Jubilee year.
On January 27, students, faculty, and staff gathered for a special ceremony to commemorate the Holy Year of Mercy, celebrating in the same way the Jubilee year was welcomed in Rome and all over the globe: by opening and walking through a Holy Door.
For participants, this emblematic act symbolized the intention to remove obstacles that impair or impede their union with God and with one another. To make this passage not simply symbolic but real, Pope Francis has encouraged everyone to focus on and engage in practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The College’s own Holy Door, a red door adorned simply with the Sisters of Mercy cross, was built by the College’s resident carpenter, Thom Johnson. Throughout the rest of this auspicious year, the door will be positioned around campus and at events to prompt the community to meditate on how to “live mercy.”
“The Door is a reminder of the College’s Catholic history, and that personally and spiritually, we’re all rooted in mercy,” says Chris Hughes ’17, one of the students involved in the opening ceremony, on what mercy means to him. “It prompts us to take time out of our day to reflect on our actions and how we can be more merciful.”
A Holy Door located in Italy. For the first time, Holy Doors are being opened in single dioceses, either in the main Cathedral or in local historical churches, in order to allow Catholics to gain the plenary indulgences granted during the Jubilee Year without having to travel to Rome.