Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy
Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831. Catherine lived in Ireland in the early nineteenth century, when most people lived in great poverty. She responded to the needs of the poor and made a difference in their lives, providing schools for poor children, shelter and training for poor women, and caring for the poor, sick and dying.
Catherine’s Family Life
Catherine was born in September 1778 into a happy and wealthy family. Her father was a prosperous landowner who provided Catherine with a role model by helping others and inviting the poor into his home.
However, Catherine’s father died when she was five years old. Her mother was unable to manage the finances and the family gradually lost all their wealth. When Mrs McAuley died in 1798, Catherine was twenty years old and financially dependent on the charity of her relatives. Over the next five years she lived with some of these relatives as a foster daughter.
In 1803, Catherine was adopted by the Callaghans, a wealthy but childless couple with whom she lived for the next twenty years. While she was living with them she began to put into practice her saying: ‘If you really love God, you will prove your love for the proof of love is deed.’ Catherine used her time to educate poor girls and women and to look after the sick and dying.
House of Mercy
When Mr Callaghan died in 1822, Catherine inherited the Callaghan estate valued in today’s terms at over $3 million. Catherine was now aged forty-four, a wealthy heiress and in a position to take up life in Dublin society. However, this was not the pathway that Catherine would choose to follow.
To the surprise of her family and friends, Catherine used her fortune to build a large house in Baggot Street, a fashionable part of Dublin, where poor children could be educated and poor women provided with shelter. Catherine’s house was opened on 24 September 1827. As this was the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, the house was named the House of Mercy. Catherine was joined at the House of Mercy by a group of young women who believed, as Catherine did, that….….‘The poor need help today, not next week’