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Mercy House - Its inception and miraculous growth

St Richard's is proud to be linked with Mercy House - and in our Jubilee year, the story of how that link was made is told by Judy McGregor.

"My earliest recorded correspondence with Diana Beamish is dated 24th November 1996. Gerald and I received a surprise phone call from Denis Beamish (Diana’s brother) and our family dentist in South Africa and social friend of many years who was working on locum in the UK. We thereupon invited him to a meal at our house. That meal proved to be momentous in terms of our involvement with the work of Mercy House. In conversation Denis told us of the incredible work his sister Diana was doing to help desperate refugees and long before that, her amazing work amongst the poor in South Africa. We were so deeply moved by her story that I felt compelled to help her with fund-raising efforts, hopefully touching the hearts of fellow Parishioners and Clergy alike to adopt her cause. Hence the very first letter received from Diana saying how overjoyed she was that we had met up with Denis and that I had agreed to bring her cause up for consideration to our Parish Priest."

Diana - the person (in her own words)

When Diana was in Grade 11 at school she moved to a Catholic school where she got to know the Catholic faith. She knew immediately that she wanted to be a Catholic and was instructed. She also knew that she wanted to give her life completely to the service of God. After completing a University Degree she joined a religious community and was a sister for 8 years but left before her final vows. The reason being that although she loved the prayer life she felt too cut off from the people she really wanted to help and serve. "I left and had no job, no money and no place to stay. My family are not Catholic but I did have an aunt who was a Catholic and I asked if I could come and stay with her as I simply did not know what else to do with myself. It was a difficult time but no doubt in the plan of God. This was how I ended up in Johannesburg and where I started teaching at the Sacred Heart College." After years of teaching she resigned, as she needed more time to spend with the Refugees she had discovered at the Angelo Camp. She says this was a total leap in the dark, as she had no other job to go to. God did provide however as he does when we take big jumps of faith. She has since written seven Text Books for Adult Education and this gave her much more flexi time to work and to be with the Refugee’s at Mercy House and in the wider community.

Her Mercy House work started at the time of the genocide in Rwanda, in 1994, with the intention of helping young people who had been orphaned, or forced into child soldiery in a war which escalated and spilled over into neighbouring countries and still continues till today in many areas of conflict in Central Africa. As time has passed the team at Mercy House have assisted hundreds of genuine refugees, including refugee families, some of whom have lived in and others who live in the wider community, but fall within the ambit of our aid.

From mustard seed to enormous tree!

I would like to acknowledge the amazing generosity of Parishioners from all three Parishes and the Bible School who over the last 10 years have given enormous amounts of personal time, energy and financial aid to Diana’s cause. In 1998 the Tuesday Prayer Group raised funds through small coffee mornings and Lenten Lunches and raised enough for Diana to install gas cookers and gas geysers in the House. Mercy House was always remembered in our Prayers at that time.

In April 2001 David Rang ran the LONDON MARATHON in aid of Mercy House and raised in excess of £1000.00. The Pink Gates (urgently needed for security reasons) were installed at Mercy House with these funds. In May 2001 David offered financial help for Mercy House in the form of IBM Pledges whereby a substantial amount of money was raised yet again. In September 2002 I received an email from Diana overwhelmed at the amazing total of £2,500 (R40, 000) raised through sponsorship after Fr. Kieron’s brave and arduous climb up MT. KILIMANJARO in Kenya Another separate amount was raised at the same time of Fr. Kieron’s climb and this totalled R9147.60. Fr. Kieron and David Rang once again performed miracles on Diana’s behalf and cycled all the way to LOURDES!

Another very generous total was raised through sponsorship which was divided between two charities.

A Soiree was organised in the Presbytery by Helen Floyd and included some outstanding vocal renditions and local Parish talent with piano recitals, readings and musical instruments. This event together with other anonymous donations and some help from the Friday Project amounted to R12, 853,00. Consider the Rand value equivalent to the Pound value. Diana treats it as such!

Helen and Nick Burton have been sponsoring an orphan child at Mercy House for many years called Dibaba with enormous generosity. The funds have gone towards his clothing, schoolbooks and uniforms and general day-to-day expenses.

Wanda Norris, a teacher at St. Phillip Howard School, has worked tirelessly with her pupils having sales of goods and raising a substantial amount of money for Mercy House. To her we are very grateful.

Last, but not least, Penny and Mick Finn have been outstanding in their generosity of time and gifts, since 2004 staging the annual Christmas Market in the Parish Rooms for Diana. The amounts raised have been in excess of £5000.00, which includes the splendid summer lunch, held in Penny’s garden last August. My own Lunch at Tangmere, including quite a few Tangmere residents coming to support her cause also raised an amazing amount of in excess of £1000.00.

Visitors to Mercy House

Since we started to support Mercy House quite a few Parishioners have had the privilege of visiting Diana and the refugees in Johannesburg. Gerald and I visited for the first time in November 2001. Pat and Dave Rang visited while visiting friends in Pretoria. Catherine Downy visited in March 2004 and was warmly welcomed by all at Mercy House. Clare Hensman visited Diana in 2005 and worked closely with all the refugees teaching English and helping out generally with any subject that was asked of her. Her visit was over three months from March to May of that year.

Of course our most recent visitor to Mercy House was Stefan Bartkowiack from Witterings Parish (a BA Airline Pilot) who very kindly took out an enormous bag of goodies for Diana as he has done on other occasions. He was warmly welcomed by all the refugees and played a couple of games of table tennis with the residents and was treated to a lovely lunch after attending Diana’s local Mass centre for Mass. Stefan has come back very enthused and would like to start fund raising mainly for the upkeep of the house.

School Projects

Clare Newsam has done a school project on Mercy House and got excellent marks for her efforts. Thomas Galloway also did a school project and wrote after doing it – “I have found the work about Mercy House inspirational and have found the research most thought provoking. Kay Howlett’s granddaughter also did a project on Mercy House.

We are glad to have our own web pages on the parish website, so that photographs and features written by helpers are seen in 80 countries! This, and the parish printed Bulletin, has brought Diana’s cause to the forefront of people’s minds.

Lastly I would like to say an enormous thank-you to ALL of the Parishioners of St. Richard’s, Bosham and Witterings and particularly Fr. Kieron who has embraced Diana's cause with such enthusiasm and energy! Thanks, too, for their outstanding generosity and without whose support none of this fundraising could ever be possible. Mercy House has also benefited from HUGE anonymous donations over the years and to these very kind people I say thank-you so much – GOD knows who you are.

Judy McGregor