The Venerable Mother Catherine Elizabeth McAuley (born on 29 September 1778, at Stormanstown House, in Dublin, Ireland – died 11 November 1841, at the House of Mercy she had built on Baggot Street, Dublin) was an Irish nun, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831. The Order has always been associated with teaching, especially in Ireland, where the nuns taught Catholics (and at times Protestants) at a time when education was mainly reserved for members of the established Church of Ireland.[clarification needed]
Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin to James and Elinor Conway McAuley. Her father died in 1783, and her mother in 1798. Catherine and her two siblings moved to live with Protestant relatives, the Armstrongs. In 1803, she became the household manager and companion of friends of her relatives, the Callaghans, an elderly, childless, and wealthy Protestant couple, at their home in Dublin and then at their estate in Coolock. Catherine Callaghan died in 1819. When Mr Callaghan died in 1822, she became the sole residuary legatee of their estate.
The House of Mercy
She inherited a considerable fortune and chose to use it to build a house where she and other compassionate women could take in homeless women and children to provide care and an education for them. A location was selected at the junction of lower Baggot and Herbert Streets, Dublin, and in June, 1824, the corner-stone was laid by the Rev. Dr. Blake. On the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, 24 September, 1827, the new institution for destitute women, orphans, and poor schools was opened and Catherine, with two companions, undertook its management.
Sisters of Mercy
She never intended to found a community of religious women. In 1828 the archbishop permitted the staff of the institute to assume a distinctive dress and to publicly visit the sick. The uniform adopted was a black dress and cape of the same material reaching to the belt, a white collar and a lace cap and veil — such a costume as is now worn by the postulants of the congregation. In the same year the archbishop desired Miss McAuley to choose some name by which the little community might be known, and she chose that of "Sisters of Mercy", having the design of making the works of mercy the distinctive feature of the institute.
She was desirous that the members should combine with the silence and prayer of the Carmelites, the active labours of a Sister of Charity. The position of the institute was anomalous, its members were not bound by vows nor were they restrained by rules. The church (clergy and people) of the time, however, were not supportive of groups of lay women working independently of church structures. Catherine's clerical mentor urged her to form a religious institute. Catherine and two other women entered the formation program of the Presentation Sisters to formally prepare for life as women religious. At the end of one year they professed vows and returned to the House of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy consider 12 December 1831 as the day of their founding as a religious community.
A cholera epidemic hit Dublin in 1832, and Catherine agreed to staff a cholera hospital on Townsend Street.
Catherine lived only ten years as a Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Catherine, but in that time she established twelve foundations in Ireland and two in England. At the time of her death there were 150 Sisters of Mercy. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters left Ireland to establish new foundations on the east and west coasts of the United States, in Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.
In 1978, the cause for the beatification of the Servant of God Catherine McAuley was opened by Pope Paul VI. In 1990, upon recognition of her heroic virtues, Pope John Paul II declared her Venerable. This placed her on the path towards possible sainthood.
- Mary C. Sullivan. The Path of Mercy: The Life of Catherine McAuley (Catholic University of America Press; 2012) 500 pages; scholarly biography