Catherine McAuley, Sisters of Mercy founder: Her legacy must live in us

Sept. 24, 1827
Dublin, Ireland

On this date and place, Catherine McAuley opened the House of Mercy to provide a school for poor children, a shelter for girls coming from the farms to find work, and a place where girls could learn a trade and sell their goods. She also brought food, clothing and coal to the sick and the starving.

When the Bishop in Dublin became aware of her work and the fact that she and several friends had begun to wear simple clothes and address each other as “Sister,” he told her to start a religious community so that her works would endure. Suspect of his advice because the only convents she knew were cloistered and she wanted to serve outside in the community, Catherine reluctantly joined the Sisters of the Presentation for a year, along with two friends. The three received intensive religious training, and when it came time for them to profess vows, they were allowed to include a vow of service to the poor, sick and uneducated (in addition to chastity, poverty and obedience). After the ceremony, Catherine returned to the House of Mercy, and on Dec. 12, 1831, founded the Sisters of Mercy.

Sr. Michele Aronica '74

Sr. Michele Aronica ’74, Vice President of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy, returned to campus during Mercy Week to talk about how Catherine McAuley’s passion for service lives on today.

When Catherine McAuley died in 1841, there were 100 Sisters of Mercy throughout Ireland and England. Today, there are 12,000 worldwide, including 4,500 in the Americas. In the Northeast Community (New England and Albany, N.Y., areas), there are 875 vowed members sponsoring or cosponsoring 33 ministry sites. These include soup kitchens, retreat centers, transitional houses, elementary and high schools, health care systems, and colleges.

Throughout the Americas, the Sisters of Mercy sponsor 200 health care facilities (second only to the Veterans Administration), 19 colleges, 58 schools, 60 social service units and 13 retreat centers.

But in reality, Mercy is much, much bigger than the religious community. It includes the Mercy Associates (lay members) and our many partners in ministry. Today and tomorrow, Catherine McAuley is you – and everyone who feels a call to respond to the need for Mercy in the world.

Our deep desire that Catherine McAuley’s vision for Mercy continues is what drives our work to integrate her vision throughout our sponsored works. For example, we integrate it here at Saint Joseph’s College through our core values and how they are reflected in our policies, programs, projects, performance evaluations and budgets. We are working to have these values – justice, integrity, faith, excellence, community, respect and compassion – “hardwired” into all of our sponsored works, so that the legacy of Catherine McAuley continues.

In the future, whether or not there are Sisters of Mercy present on campus, our mission will theoretically be “hardwired” throughout the walls and into the halls. Mercy is everywhere, and Catherine’s passion is alive and well today because of all of our efforts.

by Sr. Michele Aronica ’74, RSM