Sister Danielle Gagnon RSM, is Merion Mercy’s Director of Mission and Ministry. Rebekah Adens is Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
Adens: Sr. Danielle, I am curious as to how you see the relationship between Mission and DEIB?
Sr. Danielle: The Office for Mission and Ministry promotes our Catholic identity and Mercy tradition through leadership, collaboration, and programs that foster an inclusive school culture rooted in the Gospel and in the spirit of Catherine McAuley.
A commitment to DEIB is a commitment to the Gospel.
Mission and DEIB have a collaborative agenda which is the full realization of our Mission: Merion Mercy Academy, an independent Catholic, college preparatory school sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, empowers young women to lead, learn, and serve through an education grounded in spiritual development and academic and personal excellence.
Adens: Can you elaborate on DEIB being a commitment to the Gospel?
Sr. Danielle: With regard to diversity, for example, consider Jesus’ one requirement by which we will be judged: Matthew 25:37-40. “When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ … Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
If we take this seriously, which the Gospel asks us to do, we are called to welcome and respond to each and every person as we would welcome and respond to Jesus.
When it comes to equity, look to Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you. This is the law of the prophets.” Matthew 7:12. We are called to provide for each according to their needs. Jesus asks us to imagine ourselves in the other person’s shoes and to then respond from that place of empathy. It is not about everyone having the same, it is about everyone having what they need.
And, our commitment to inclusion is rooted in Jesus’ preference for the person cast out from society. He called all people to himself; all have equal opportunity and access. This is what I imagine when we talk about Merion being an inclusive community.
Sr. Danielle: As our DEIB Director, how does this sit with you?
Adens: It sits just right. First, if you understand diversity, equity, and inclusion as the creation of a language, or a way of engaging that clarifies the experience of the marginalized, then you see clearly the arc between the call of the Gospel and the manifestation of that Spirit in the work of people attempting to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into our collective consciousness. DEI is asking us to seek out, understand, and join with the other.
We can see an example of this clearly in the Civil Rights Movement. The Gospel, our ultimate “why,” called our nation to wrestle with the evils of racism. The “how,” including bus boycotts, articles, and organizing, reflect the ways diversity and equity work.
Sr. Danielle, How does our community engage with the complexity of these opportunities?
Sister Danielle: The most important thing we can do is to remember who we are. Always. We are a Catholic, all girls high school, in the Mercy tradition, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is from this place that we approach the complexity of our DEIB work. In addition to guidance from the Gospel, we rely on the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concerns and Catholic Social Teaching to shape our DEIB practices and initiatives.
As administrators, we remain discerning. We consider and respond to the needs of our community as a whole and the very specific needs of each individual. We strive to balance the challenges of today, our history and tradition, and how the future of Catholic, Mercy education at MMA is calling us to prepare now for the years to come.
Ms. Adens: We have such a strong community at Merion Mercy Academy, steeped in tradition and grounded in faith. We care. We listen. We take it seriously when one of us is in pain and then we work to eliminate that pain.What do you see as the greatest DEIB-related needs at MMA now?
Sister Danielle: We have made great strides in our DEIB work in the past two years. At this point, I think we are being called to deeper listening and greater presence to all of the members of Mercy community, and most especially to our students and families who are in MMA’s minority identity groups. It is not enough to say everyone belongs. We need to work at belonging, and tirelessly so, to ensure that Merion Mercy Academy is a holy place where all are seen, heard and treasured.