When Sister Angela Reed rsm was a little girl, she dreamed of being a teacher. It was a career she imagined doing for the rest of her life. She certainly didn’t foresee a life of walking alongside women and children impacted by homelessness, domestic violence and human trafficking and being an international advocate on their behalf. Nor did she think she’d find herself celebrating 25 years as a Sister of Mercy in 2021.
During her childhood, Angela loved being in primary school and learning. As the second youngest of five boys and two girls, she enjoyed a happy, active and faith-filled home life in Ferntree Gully. Many of the family’s social events centered around their parish of St John’s. ‘It wasn’t just Sunday Mass for us,’ she said, ‘It was schooling, it was youth group and other groups, and it was music.’ Being very musical, the Reed family often contributed to the liturgy through music.
Tragically, when Angela was 14 years old, her mother died suddenly. Looking back, now at 51-years of age, Angela says it was a defining moment in her life. ‘My mother died for no apparent reason—she was taken into hospital very suddenly and died overnight.’
As Angela struggled with grief and tried to make sense of her family’s sudden and tragic loss, she embarked on a quest in asking the big questions: Is there really a God? What is this world about? What was the meaning of me being born? Why did mum die at 46 years of age?
‘We as a family were completely transformed by that experience, but we stayed strong.’
Due to the loss of her mother, Angela struggled through her secondary years at Aquinas College in Ringwood from that point. She became rebellious and lost motivation to study. In fact, she was reticent to finish secondary school.
At 16 years, Angela was introduced to a Sister of Mercy who, fortunately, was able to provide much support and comfort to Angela for a number of years, as she navigated the grief and loss following her mother’s death.
Not only did the Sister encourage Angela to complete her secondary education, but she also had a profound influence on the way Angela saw the world. ‘She offered a lot of comfort, support and wisdom to me as a woman,’ said Angela, ‘and she also opened up a whole world of church beyond what I’d known in my little parish life of Ferntree Gully.’
Angela persisted and completed Year 12 and went on to study teaching at Christ College in Clayton. She graduated in the early 1990s. Her childhood dream of being a teacher was coming to fruition, though there was now a new dimension to this vocation. She had also decided to ‘have a go’ at being a Sister of Mercy.
‘Back then I thought I would be a teacher for rest of my life and that I would also be a Sister of Mercy, though the latter was always an uncertain thing for me,’ she said. ‘I always had the attitude that I would give it a go and just keep on going. And despite the ups and downs, I stayed on.’
Angela said it has been an evolving journey of faith, fidelity and one with many unexpected opportunities and experiences. Having started her formation with the Sisters of Mercy, she began teaching in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and later moved into Regina Coeli, a Mercy service for women rendered homeless.
The Sisters of Mercy also ran a shelter for women and children impacted by domestic violence called Mercy Care in Melbourne. Here, Angela started as a volunteer and ended up managing the service for seven years.
Impacted by this experience, Angela went on to do a Master’s in Social Work and a post-graduate Diploma in Counselling. She’d already completed her Theology degree as part of her formation with the Sisters and later went on to do a doctorate on human trafficking, which she says opened her up to a 'whole other world’.
It has been her vast experience ‘on the ground’ with people, mostly women and children, experiencing systemic disadvantage that has fuelled her desire to become a fierce advocate on the international stage. Angela has been the Head of Mercy Global Action, based in New York, for the past five years. In this role she and members of her small team advocate at places like the United Nations, the Vatican, universities and other influential gatherings, being a voice for the voiceless and bringing to light their plight.
‘The fire in my belly comes from the experience of the people and the earth,’ she said. ‘Our advocacy must always be based on our experience of people and earth. I can't imagine being an advocate with a pen and paper without the close relationship to the people and the earth.’
Angela smiles as she reflects back on her life as a teenager who was on the verge of dropping out of high school. In the years since, she says she has had the ‘incredible opportunity and great privilege' to meet with, walk alongside and understand more deeply the plight of many disadvantaged peoples, from across the world. Angela has lived in the Philippines for several months where she worked with and interviewed 22 young women who had been formerly trafficked.
‘Nothing could have prepared me for the stories I heard that moved in me a great desire for justice,’ she said.
She has travelled to the Amazon in Guyana on a medical mission with Sister Karen Schnieder, an American Sister of Mercy and doctor. Meeting the Indigenous people and seeing their plight gave Angela a greater sense of how she could advocate on their behalf at various Indigenous People’s forums. She’s been to Peru, Cambodia, and the United States of America where she sought to understand the devastating impact of fracking on local communities.
Meeting the people, being among them and hearing their stories has allowed Angela to be a better advocate on their behalf.
‘We’re not just sitting in an Ivory tower making grand statements about things we don't know anything about,’ she said. ‘I am bringing the voice of the person who is experiencing homelessness, or trafficking, or having been in war, to the United Nations, or the Vatican, or wherever it might be.’
The fire in Angela’s belly continues to burn—there is much to be done and she said there is a high expectation among the Mercy world that ‘we will make a difference’. Inspired by Pope Francis’ 2014 encyclical, Laudato Si', which calls for systemic change, Angela said, ‘A huge part of my role now is turning systems upside down and asking how do we think differently? How do we be different? How do we act differently?
‘So now I don't sit and pray for the poor. Rather, I pray that I and others will be awakened to what we need to do to change these systems,' Angela says.
'We are being called as Catholics to look beyond our own Catholic world and to let go of some of our privileges. We’re being called to divest from fossil fuels, which I know is a big call, but it’s necessary. And we need to ensure we’re not complicit in systems that oppress other people. For example, the "fast fashion" industry, which often results in exploitation of workers and further disadvantage.
‘We need to increase our advocacy and join movements that are fighting for what are, in essence, human rights and Earth rights movements. I believe we're called to regain our deep sense of the sacredness of Earth and people.’
At the conclusion of the interview, Angela shared the significance of the ring she wore. It is actually made up of three rings. Her mother’s wedding ring is set between two silver rings of the Sisters of Mercy. The three rings together symbolise the Trinity for Angela. On the inside is engraved Angela’s motto, Faithful One along with her profession date, 26 October 2002. The motto has a two-way meaning for Angela: 'God is faithful to me and I am faithful to the mission.'
Melbourne Catholic28 November 2023
VMCH28 November 2023