By Michael Sanderl, EdD
Vice President & Chief Sponsorship and Mission Integration Officer
Being part of the Saint Joseph’s College community invites us to be informed and inspired by Catherine McAuley and our Mercy heritage and charism. The life and witness of Catherine are inspiring with regard to their historical context and her own calling to give and serve in late 18th and early 19th century Ireland. At the same time, her story is relevant and compelling for us today.
Catherine’s life was about responding to the genuine needs of people whom she, her early companions, and the Sisters of Mercy encountered in their communities. This is expressed poignantly with the opening of the first House of Mercy on September 24, 1827, on Baggot Street in Dublin, where food, clothing, housing, and education were provided for many of the city’s poor women and young girls (see Tradition of Hospitality story).
The House of Mercy was an expression of openness and welcome to others. Our own Saint Joseph’s College Baggot Street in Heffernan Center points to this significant moment in the life of Catherine and our Mercy heritage. Baggot Street becomes our contemporary expression of Mercy hospitality and community.
While Catherine and her companions utilized the resources available to them with regard to finances, material goods, and relationships with others, there was a deeper motivation. Catherine’s giving and service offered what she had available in genuine response to what others needed.
Physician and author Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “Service rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose ... Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life.”
In this way, authentic and deep giving and serving are relational. Rooted in her faith and the Gospel, Catherine understood this spirit and cultivated it with her early companions when she wrote, “The tender Mercy of God has given us one another.”
The Sisters of Mercy Constitutions offer this contemporary expression: "By collaborating with others in the works of Mercy, we continually learn from them how to be more merciful ... We carry out our mission of mercy guided by prayerful consideration of the needs of our time.”
In a recent address at his general audience at the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “I do the works of mercy with my hands and I try to help, to heal the many who are in need. Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart and arrives at the hands, at the works of Mercy.”
Inspired by Catherine, may our hearts and hands be rooted in Mercy, continually calling and compelling us to respond to the needs of our time.