As the line in the Abba song “Fernando” goes, there was something in the air that night for a group of women from Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish.
Back in the summer of 2002, they had been on hand in Rochester for Sister Cathy Solan’s welcoming ceremony as a novice in the Sisters of Mercy. On their way back to Tompkins County, the travelers were struck by a special feeling.
“I felt the Holy Spirit was in the air,” said Sister Edna Slyck, RSM, pastoral associate at Immaculate Conception.
That same sense hit Mary Ann Fitzpatrick, and she in turn saw it spread to Madeline Rockwell (see story above.)
“You just knew that our Lord was working with Madeline,” Fitzpatrick recalled. “It’s a feeling that you just cannot explain to someone.”
That spiritual influence has carried Rockwell — now Sister Rockwell — deeply into life as a woman religious. She was received into the order as a novice July 15, continuing a remarkable series of Mercy connections running through Immaculate Conception:
* Other current Sisters of Mercy who hail from the parish are Sister Judy Kenrick, a staff member at St. Louis Parish in Pittsford, near Rochester; her sister, Sister Jane Kenrick, who performs missionary service in Chile; and Sister Barb Stinard, who ministers at the International Centre — the Mercy order’s founding house — in Dublin, Ireland.
* Fitzpatrick noted that such Sisters of Mercy as Sister Betty Hughes, the late Sister Mary Kruckow and Sister Elise Quigley were key parish staff members beginning in the 1980s. Sister Quigley is still on staff as a parish secretary.
* Margaret Dean, an Immaculate Conception parishioner, recently served a one-year commitment in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the Mercy Volunteer Corps — an organization of lay men and women who work with the poor and marginalized.
* The parish’s thriving Mercy Associate lay program currently has eight members: Fitzpatrick, Nancy Liguori, Jean Massicci, Kathleen O’Grady, Helen Wilkins, Mary Edsall-Golway, Ann Argetsinger and Dinah Collins.
“Oh it’s beautiful,” Sister Slyck said of the Mercy-Immaculate Conception links. “Whatever is happening here, is happening by the Holy Spirit. It’s just awesome.”
Fitzpatrick was the parish’s first Mercy Associate. She said she had thought for many years about the religious life and, at age 51, was encouraged by Sister Judy Kenrick — a friend since childhood — to pursue becoming an associate. She made her covenant during a Mass celebrated by the late Father Bernard Carges, longtime pastor of Immaculate Conception, at the Notre Dame convent in Elmira. Sister Judy Kenrick served as her sponsor.
“Aug. 31, 1988. I remember it like it was yesterday,” Fitzpatrick remarked. “My life just changed 18 years ago.”
Sister Slyck joined the parish staff in 1998 and promoted the Mercy Associate program anew.
“Practically every year I’ve been here we’ve had somebody go through the process,” Sister Slyck said.
Mercy Associates make their covenant after a discernment period. Fitzpatrick noted that this commitment has been carried out in many ways in her parish and community: helping out in the local food bank; volunteering at the Salvation Army; serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion; visiting nursing homes; and providing general support to the Sisters of Mercy.
“God leads us in ways of different ministries,” Fitzpatrick said, emphasizing that the Mercy Associates are united by one common denominator: “We never lose sight that we’re vehicles of God’s love.”
The associates also meet monthly at Sister Slyck’s apartment, where their discussions often center around books on the life of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Mercy religious order. Mercy Associates regularly bring to the gatherings nonmembers from Ithaca and nearby communities.
“We invite our friends or whatever, and that’s how it continues to grow,” Fitzpatrick said. “It grows by our example and personal contact.”