Life of Catherine McAuley

Catherine McAuley’s Mercy Charism

Preferential option for the poor, Life of generous service to persons in need, Special concern for women and children, Spirit of hospitality, Justice, Compassion and Trust in the providence of God.

On September 24, 1827, Catherine McAuley, the First Sister of Mercy, first opened the doors of her home to the public on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland. By coincidence or act of providence, September 24th, is also the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, who would lend both her identity and spirit to the building and its works, when it was named the House of Mercy.

Prior to founding her religious order, Catherine’s lifelong dream came true when she used her inheritance to build a home where women and children in dire need would be provided with housing, education, religious and social services enabling them to find a far brighter future than was generally available to the Irish, particularly Irish women, of the time. Catherine’s innovative approach to housing and educating young women and children from the slums was considered shocking, especially since it brought the poor, the sick and the uneducated into an affluent neighborhood. Within three years over 200 girls were enrolled in the school at House of Mercy and volunteers, inspired by Catherine’s spirit and compassion, were numerous.

In 1831, upon founding the Sisters of Mercy, the “House of Mercy,” also became the first convent of the Sisters of Mercy. As Catherine’s passion for the poor took root in the hearts of her companions, the charism of Mercy spread rapidly across Ireland and England. By 1839, a mere eight years after being founded, the Sisters of Mercy numbered over 100 women religious and in the ten years between the founding of the order and her death, Catherine had founded nine Convents of Mercy.

In an 1841 letter to Sister Elizabeth Moore, she described the spirit which characterized the congregation and its members: “All are good and happy. The blessing of unity still dwells amongst us and oh what a blessing, it should make all else pass into nothing. All laugh and play together, not one cold, stiff soul appears. From the day they enter, reserve of any ungracious kind leaves them. This is the spirit of the Order, indeed the true spirit of Mercy flowing on us…”

Today, the special charism and spirit of Venerable Catherine McAuley remains alive and well within the Sisters of Mercy and Mercy Associates. She continues to draw women to minister to the poor, the sick, the uneducated and the underserved. Almost 5,000 Sisters of Mercy of the Americas currently serve in 11 countries and one territory, while other Mercy foundations and institutes can be found in Aotearoa, New Zealand, the Philippines, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland and Newfoundland.

And what remains of the original House of Mercy? In 1994, it was fully restored and opened to the public as Mercy International Centre, an important historical link for Sisters of Mercy and Mercy Associates from all over the globe. Although she died November 11, 1841, at her Baggot Street convent, her spirit of hospitality and her legacy continues today embodied within each Sister of Mercy. Mercy International Center allows all to reflect on Catherine’s passion for helping the poor, which continues to inspire women as they carry forth the contemporary ministry of Mercy worldwide.

Text by Kris Reich
“The Circle of Mercy” used with permission of composer, Sister Jeannette Goglia, RSM (Merion). Song recorded by the Mercy choir directed by Sister Maria Rosario Gaite, RSM (Guam/NC) for Guam foundation 50th anniversary.