Catherine McAuley, an Irish Catholic laywoman and the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy was a woman of determination, vision, humor and immense practicality. She was also a woman of deep faith who recognized the many needs of people who were economically poor in early nineteenth century Ireland and she was determined that she, and women like her, could help to relieve their suffering. With an inheritance she opened the first House of Mercy on Lower Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland, on September 24, 1827 as a place to shelter, feed and educate women and girls.
Catherine’s original intention was to assemble a lay corps of Catholic social workers. Impressed by her good works and wanting the work to continue after her death, the Archbishop of Dublin suggested that she establish a religious congregation. On December 12, 1831, Catherine and two companions took their vows and returned to Baggot Street as the first Sisters of Mercy.
Catherine McAuley’s theme song was Mercy and so her spirituality was Mercy. She knew that everything she possessed came from God to whom she had committed her life. Catherine’s personal experience of God in her life enabled her to open her heart and hands to those around her. Her personal spirituality embraced God’s faithful love and Mercy for all persons.
“Mercy, the principal path pointed out by Jesus Christ to those who desire to follow Him, has in all ages excited the faithful to instruct and comfort the sick and dying poor and in them they find the person of our Divine Lord.” –Catherine McAuley
Catherine McAuley called her followers to the challenging rhythm of contemplation and action. When asked to describe the qualities necessary in a woman seeking membership in the Sisters of Mercy, she responded simply, “…an ardent desire to be united to God and to serve the poor.”
Catherine viewed prayer and service as reciprocal dimensions of spirituality. This teaching was repeated over and over again in her letters and instructions:
Central to Catherine’s personal spirituality was her devotion to Jesus, especially in His passion. In her rule of life for the Mercy Community she wrote that the congregation was “founded on Calvary, there to serve a crucified Redeemer.” This devotion flows from our gratitude for the personal, saving love of Jesus.
~Adapted from Sisters of Mercy text by Helen Marie Burns, RSM And Sheila Carney, RSM (1996)
Catherine’s work is continued today by countless Sisters of Mercy, Associates in Mercy, Companions in Mercy, and Mercy Volunteers, and co-ministers throughout the world. Continually inspired by Catherine’s life and her insistent desire to do something permanent for the poor, uneducated, vulnerable, unskilled, and neglected, the Works of Mercy come to life every day in their hands. The challenge of Catherine McAuley urges us all to “connect the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, the educated and the skilled to the uninstructed, the influential to those of no consequence, and the powerful to the weak to do the work of God on earth.”
Sisters of Mercy
The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas is an international Community of women religious vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children.
In innovative and traditional ways, Sisters of Mercy address human needs through collaborative efforts in education, healthcare, housing, and pastoral and social services. Among Sisters of Mercy one can find doctors, lawyers and paralegals, theologians, immigrant advocates, missionaries, justice advocates and peace activists, prisoners of conscience, and foster mothers.
The Institute is comprised of six Communities with more than 3,500 sisters who serve in North, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Guam and the Philippines. More than 3,200 Mercy Associates, several Companions in Mercy, over 1064 Mercy Volunteer Corps alumni and thousands of co-workers in Mercy-sponsored programs and institutions also share in our mission, following the example of Mercy foundress, Catherine McAuley.
Animated by the Gospel and Catherine McAuley’s passion for the poor, we, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, are impelled to commit our lives and resources to act in solidarity with
- the economically poor of the world, especially women and children;
- women seeking fullness of life and equality in church and society;
- one another as we embrace our multicultural and international reality.
This commitment will impel us to
- develop and act from a multicultural and international perspective;
- speak with a corporate voice;
- work for systemic change;
- practice non-violence;
- act in harmony and interdependence with all creation; and
- call ourselves to continual conversion in our lifestyle and ministries.