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Key Mercy Symbols


Symbols and celebrations play an important part in enabling and defining Mercy culture and identity.  They speak of what is held dear, what is valued. They have emerged from Mercy's biblical and cultural traditions transcending geography and time and passed down by our ancestors in Mercy.  Symbols make visible the invisible, they inspire and inform, orientating Mercy relationships and culture.  They are central to Mercy's founding myths and meaning system, grounded in the Gospel and recognised in the ordinary events of each day.


The Mercy Cross is worn by Sisters of Mercy throughout the world as a symbol of their vowed commitment. Sisters receive the Mercy Cross when first vows are made.

‘A Cross-Within-a-Cross.’


The super-imposed pair of crosses on which the design is based, originates with Mercy foundress Catherine McAuley, who connected an ebony cross with an inset of a small ivory cross.


She believed each sister must take up her own cross and symbolically place herself upon it, for only by offering her sufferings for others is she truly showing them mercy.

Heart of Mercy

When the Sisters of Mercy throughout Aotearoa, including Tonga and Samoa, joined together to became one congregation in 2005, each Sister received a little Heart of Mercy pendant.


If you look carefully at the photo of the sculpture, you will notice the two koru form a heart shape.


The koru, fern fronds, reach towards the light as they unfurl. In this sculpture, the koru symbolise the renewing power of new life.


This is a special Mercy symbol for our New Zealand Sisters of Mercy.


In this bronze sculpture, the Mercy Cross, central to Catherine

McAuley’s spirituality and recognised internationally as the symbol of her congregation, is supported by a pair of koru, the unfolding shoots of the New Zealand fern, among Earth’s oldest flora.


Reaching towards the light and forming the shape of a heart, the koru represent the unfolding of new life, creation's power to renew and regenerate itself. In sustaining the cross, the fern shoots signal life that continues to grow in the face of death, finding purpose in chaos and giving new reason for hope. It is by embracing each and every cross that mercy brings life.


The fern is an indigenous species that links our Mercy story with the spirituality of Māori and the ancient lore of this land. The demands of justice, especially those that stem from Treaty violation and the loss of mana and land that Māori have sustained, are part of this story. Mother Cecilia Maher, for whom "the fire in the fern" meant the simmering tensions between Māori and pākehā settlers that threatened bloodshed and war, would have seen in this symbol the promise of peace that only justice can bring.

Heart of Mercy

The link between the koru and the cross is also an invitation to change our world by changing our story. The cross has long stood as a sign of atonement and redemption. In our time, the cross needs to be seen more as a symbol of ongoing creation. The God of the cosmos is not a God who requires humans to suffer, but who instead reveals love as the one power that can make sense of suffering, even death itself. "The only return required of us for all God's favours," says Catherine McAuley, "is the return of love." Te Ngākau Atawhai Heart of Mercy is an invitation to ponder that 



Artist: Gael O’Leary, 2003

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