Mercy school educators from around world meet in Omaha to discuss, respond to racism

About 170 educators and administrators from 45 Sisters of Mercy schools around the world gathered in Omaha to reflect on racism and how they can help combat it.

The Oct. 13-14 Mercy Secondary Education Conference, hosted by Mercy High School and titled "Mercy Responds: Who is My Neighbor?", was held at the downtown Embassy Suites.

Participants came from across the United States, Argentina, Honduras, Guam, the Philippines, Belize and Jamaica, said Holly McCoy, Mercy High assistant principal for student life and a member of the conference’s national planning committee.

Each year, the gathering is hosted at various sites in the Americas, focusing on one of the five critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy – non-violence, racism, immigration, the earth and women – she said.

Keynote speaker Mercy Sister Deidre Mullan, who has worked at the United Nations bringing education to third-world girls, spoke about her experiences of racism and tied it to her life growing up in Northern Ireland.

Sister Deidre, who now works with UNICEF, drew parallels between her Catholic father’s experience of prejudice from Protestants in Northern Ireland and Nelson Mandela’s experiences in South Africa, and spoke of how both responded in love, without hatred or violence.

Conference sessions focused on how racism is present today in subtle ways and possible responses, said Ashley Miller, Mercy High’s campus minister. Participants also took a pledge "… to affirm our desire as a mercy organization to combat it in any way we can."

Conference participants also toured Mercy High School, which offered Mass, a social hour, dinner and musical entertainment by Mercy students, McCoy said.

During the Mass, Mercy students with international backgrounds offered the prayers of the faithful in their native languages, some dressed in native clothing.

The dinner also reflected the international nature of the gathering, displaying the flags of the participants’ countries, table decorations in the flags’ colors, explanations of the flags and customs of those countries, and international desserts, said Deb Daley, communications director.

"The people from those countries were very touched," McCoy said.

"It was a lot of fun and a very worthwhile conference," McCoy said, "and we were happy that we were able to host it." The school’s faculty and staff helped plan and serve during the event, "… so it was a real team effort," she said.

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