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Gwynedd Mercy University recently began a Shanachie in Residence program, in which Sisters of Mercy are invited to campus to tell stories of days gone by. A Shanachie, according to Gaelic legend, is a skilled teller of tales or legends, and GMercyU can think of nobody better than the Sisters to share stories of the past. The first invited Shanachies were Sisters Georgia Ann Greene and Sheila Murphy.
Sisters Georgia and Sheila came to GMercyU in the 1960s, when Assumption Hall and the stables were the only buildings on the property, and at a time when Sisters were told where they would work each year by getting their “obediences,” or papers that listed their assignments.
For Sister Georgia, that usually meant teaching, and for Sister Sheila, that meant a nursing position in Philadelphia, which might as well have been a whole world away from where she grew up in the white, middle class suburb of Upper Darby.
“One of the things I think you realize is how blessed you are. How blessed we are,” Sister Sheila said. “It’s what you pull away from that.”
Eventually, the Sisters of Mercy were able to do to “prayerful discernments” to think about where God was calling them to work, instead of receiving their obediences each year.
Sister Georgia took some time off from education to work with the homeless in Washington, DC, but soon realized that education was they ticket out of poverty, and she began to pray for direction from God.
“Be careful how you pray, because God is listening,” Sister Georgia said.
Sooner than she imagined, Sister Georgia got a call from the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, the same place some of our Alternative Spring Break students worked this year. She spent 18 years there, as principal of an elementary school. Most people on the reservation live in poverty, and many battle addictions and health issues.
Sister Sheila took an opportunity to help start the Peruvian Sisters of Mercy, and spent about 20 years in the country, though she was never quite able to perfect her Spanish.
“I always said, ‘I live with people in total poverty, and my poverty is my language,’” she said.
Both Sisters are home in Merion now, and plan to continue sharing their experiences with students at GMercyU.