AT a time when Pope Francis has called the Church to a Year of Mercy, a Brisbane Catholic is celebrating 100 years of being Mercy.
“Mercy” is her name and, for those who best know her, it’s a name that suits.
“You have a beautiful name which reflects the beautiful person that you are to all of us,” daughter Judith Seery said in a speech at Mercy Seery’s recent birthday party.
Judith said her mother was “a remarkable and special person – a determined and loving lady, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother … and friend to many”.
When Peter and Eveline White’s first of eight children was born on August 2, 1916, in Goulburn, NSW, they gave careful thought to her name.
“Mercy” was chosen because Eveline rather liked it, “Mary” was an obvious choice for the young Catholics, but a third name was added because of the times they were in.
That name was “Anzac” in honour of troops who had arrived on the Western Front in July 1916 during the First World War.
Mercy said “with Uncle Bill (her mother’s brother) over there” it was important to them.
She said she never used the “Anzac” in her name and “Mercy” was the part she “just accepted”.
“I knew it was a special name,” she said.
Mercy said she couldn’t believe she was 100.
“I’m the last one (of eight siblings still living),” she said.
“We had a great childhood (in Goulburn). I suppose we all made our own fun.
“Mum and Dad would take us on picnics and we’d meet other families and relatives – aunts, uncles with large families – and we’d all meet and get on a train and go down a few blocks and go for a picnic, and have a wonderful time.
“My father was a railway driver so it was easy for him to get tickets for us all.”
Looking back over 100 years of memories, Mercy said one of her happiest times was the day the Second World War ended.
She had married Cyril Seery on May 16, 1944, but soon after, he was deployed as a machine gunner to New Guinea.
While Cyril and other family members were away at war, Mercy often stayed with the Seery family outside Canberra.
Another war memory was of being on duty as a nurse when the Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour and then being part of a hospital lock-down.
She clearly remembers the day word came through that the war was over.
“I was staying with my husband’s mother and, I tell you, we shouted with glee,” she said.
Mercy has strong memories of life during the Depression years of the 1930s.
Her mother would send her to the butcher to buy soup bones for threepence to make a boiler of soup for those sleeping under the bridge or travelling through Goulburn with their swags.
Her family also supported the Sisters of Mercy in caring for the poor.
“I remember the Depression very much and I remember all the swagmen,” she said.
“You just saw people carrying swags, all the time.
“And then they’d go to Mass, and they’d kneel at the back of the church, which I used to think was a pity. They’d put their swags down and they’d all kneel and they’d all go to Mass.
“They must’ve had faith too, no matter how bad things were. And they were bad during the Depression.”
Mercy and Cyril, who died in 1993, had five children, and now there are 12 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
An important part of raising their family was spent on a large sheep, cattle and wheat property near Scone in the Hunter Valley after Cyril was successful in the ballot for a soldier’s Settlers block.
“We worked very hard, I’ll tell you,” she said.
“I used to do the piece-picking in the (shearing) shed.
“I used to go around and piece-pick, as they call it, around the wool – any nasty pieces you’d take very gently out so you don’t disturb the rest of it.
“And I was teaching (home-schooling) the children (using Blackfriars Correspondence lessons).
“I was busy. I’d get all the jobs done around the house in the morning and then 10 o’clock start school.
“It was a big job.”
Mercy said her faith was “very, very, very” important to her.
“I couldn’t live without faith. I couldn’t live without the Church I don’t think,” she said.
“I brought the children up the same way I was brought up.
“When I was going to school we had what they called ‘the children’s Mass’ – 8 o’clock.
“It was just ordinary Mass but we called it the children’s Mass because we had to go and sit with the sisters at 8 o’clock Mass. We wouldn’t have been game not to.
“And then after Mass we’d go to Sunday School.
“Our faith was always very strong with us, with Mum and Dad.
“Mum taught us not to criticise other religions. A lot of people did at my time of growing up.
“Mum said, ‘There’s only one God, one Heaven. God’s there and we’ll go before him, no matter what we are’.”
There was a long pause as Mercy pondered the question of when she felt closest to God.
“I always do think God’s there all the time, especially when I’m saying my night prayers,” she said.
“And you talk to God about things, other things you don’t talk to other people, too. And I always hope God’s listening in the name of Jesus. Jesus said ‘Ask the Father anything in my name …’
“I think I do that. I think I get a lot of help.
“The only thing I couldn’t believe was, I always prayed that my children would be well and safe and everything else, and 12 months ago yesterday (daughter) Mary and (son-in-law) John were both killed (in a car accident).
“And I just couldn’t believe it, because I thought to myself, ‘Gee, I prayed to Jesus all the time to take care of them …’
“But I couldn’t live without my religion. I couldn’t live believing in nothing. I think it’s embedded in us as children.”
By Peter Bugden