Book Review: Mercy in the City


I heard about Kerry Weber’s book, Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job, in an America Magazine podcast. I was in my office sorting, stapling, and stacking handouts for a campus ministry presentation on Charity, Justice and the Structures of Society, and the book struck me as perfect material for a future program.

Weber gives a quick background on her Lenten mission to attempt all of the corporal works of mercy in one short liturgical season, while also skipping sweets, serving as an RCIA sponsor, online dating, and keeping her day job as a member of the editorial staff at America Magazine. After reading through the introduction and the first chapter, I was hooked on the book’s 5-minute chapters, written in witty, idealistic, and honest prose.

The reader follows Weber through a New York City adventure as she volunteers on an early-morning bread line and in the Clothing Room at a Catholic Worker house, learns about worldwide water use and shortages, spends the night at a homeless shelter, visits prisoners and elderly Sisters of Mercy, and does her darndest to bury the dead. Along the way, she introduces readers to various Catholic figures: Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy; Dorothy Day, co-foundress of the Catholic Worker movement; St. Peter Chrysologus, a fifth-century bishop; and many present-day saints-in-the-making.

The chapters skip along quickly, and they reveal experiences that are likely familiar to many young Catholics: calculation of the length of the Stations of the Cross, for example, and the constant worry that we won’t accomplish our Lenten goals—or that our grumbly attitude is negating the influx of grace as fast as we accomplish them. I’d recommend Mercy in the City as a Lenten pep talk, inspiring us to raise the bar on what our hearts can give this year.

Her Mercy

My favorite part of Mercy in the City is Weber’s exploration of the mercy charism. In this section, she introduces readers to the Sisters of Mercy and their foundress, Catherine McAuley, and goes on to share her experience of post-grad service in the Mercy Volunteer Corps and her discernment on joining the Mercy Associates.

As a child, I attended a Catholic elementary school that had been served by the Sisters of Mercy for generations. Some of my grandmother’s girlhood friends joined the order, and both my mother and I were taught by the sisters. Eventually, my mother’s early years as a teacher were spent amidst the sisters working at this Catholic school. Due to diminishing numbers and pastoral changes, the Sisters of Mercy left after my 4th grade year.

Until I read this book, it never occurred to me the profound effect that the mercy charism likely had on my family. My grandmother was an icon of mercy. She was the little old lady who drove littler, older ladies to the grocery store or to doctor’s appointments when they could no longer drive. It seemed that she attended every funeral in the parish with a casserole in hand. My grandparents provided financial assistance to relatives in need, and early in their marriage, they even invited a pair of penniless newlyweds to move into their home. My mom has a similar heart for mercy, particularly in offering patience and kindness to people young and old who drive everybody else nuts!

After reading chapter 8, I realized that the charism of mercy must have rubbed off from the sisters, leaving its fragrance on my grandma and mom, and probably many others in our small town, spreading comfort and healing and kindness across generations. Though my grandmother passed away 15 years ago this winter, Weber’s book provided a new insight into what shaped her merciful spirit; for this, I am deeply grateful.

A Warm Invitation

Weber’s lifestyle is familiar to many millennial Catholics that dove into post-graduate volunteer opportunities and later discovered ways to blend careers and vocations as a young professionals in lay ministries or Christian non-profits. She reveals the joy, restlessness, creativity, camaraderie, curiosity, and even the doubts that charge through the experience of Christians of our generation. For those who haven’t waded so deeply into a life of intentional Christian discipleship, Weber’s book offers an inviting glimpse of what could be, along with the promise that there would be fellow travelers with warm hearts to welcome newcomers.

As a campus ministry professional, I barely made it through the first chapter before I’d made a mental list of dozens of former students, family members, and colleagues to whom I wanted to give a copy of the book. The joy of the Gospel permeates Weber’s writing. There is no rejection or judgment of our world, only an exploration of what it means to be a transformative presence. Mercy in the City is a roadmap to a healthy Christian life for young adults, which illustrates the kind of service that Jesus calls us to live while plumbing the depths of Catholic traditions and delighting in today’s culture.

Katie Diller is the National Coordinator of the ESTEEM Leadership Program and the Director of Student Outreach at St John Catholic Student Center serving Michigan State University.