Sisters of Mercy
The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy was founded in 1831 in Dublin by Catherine McAuley, now Venerable Catherine. She worked as a carer for a Quaker couple called Mr & Mrs Callaghan. This gave her access to a bible and led to eighteen years of bible reading and this together with the example of her own father gave her a deep compassion for poor families, especially women and children in Dublin City. During her eighteen years as carer to the Callaghans she was free to share some of the household’s food with the poor of the area.
On the death of Mr & Mrs Callaghan Catherine received a large legacy which would amount to more than a million pounds now. Now she had the opportunity to do something really special for the poor. She had a huge house built in Baggot Street, Dublin. Some women joined her and the house was used to give shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, medical care to the sick and education to the children.
Catherine was encouraged to become a religious Sister so she went for training and returned to the House of Mercy in Baggot Street on 12th December 1831. So began the Religious Order of the Sisters of Mercy. Due to the great poverty in Ireland Convents sprang up in almost every town across the country because the Sisters were able to fulfil the great needs of the people and to fulfil the Gospel of Jesus -to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, cure the sick and educate the children.
The first Convent of Mercy Catherine founded in England was in Bermondsey, London and the second, her last Foundation, was in Handsworth, Birmingham in August 1841. Catherine spent a month in Handsworth helping the Sisters to begin their ministry and Community life there. Not long after returning to Baggot St. Dublin she died at the age of 61. She had been a Sister for only ten years and in that short time had inspired many women to follow her example.
The Sisters of Mercy spread across the world because the Mercy and Compassion they shared with people was so needed. They were women of prayer and practical action and so they fulfilled the command of Jesus to Love God and Neighbour.
There is still a Community of Sisters in Bermondsey and in Handsworth five Sisters live in Community. Many of St. Bernadette’s Staff have experienced a Retreat Day in St. Mary’s Convent, Handsworth and have learned the history of that beautiful House. In Stechford there is a Community of two Sisters whose mission is the same as Catherine’s was back in Dublin in 1831. Of course we now have hospitals, schools and some support for the homeless. The needs have changed but the poor are still with us and always will be. So many are spiritually poor, poor in spirit. We feel called now to minister to all people through prayer and action, especially in compassion and Mercy.
Although the number of Sisters is decreasing, we have a network of Lay Associates, people from our local parishes who love to hear the story of Venerable Catherine. They pray with the Sisters at their regular meetings and carry out the Works of Mercy in their own lives. Some of them have visited the original House in Dublin and have prayed to Mother Catherine at her grave there. Through them Mercy will live on for many years to come. There are over 20 Mercy Associates in the Stechford group and they are always ready to welcome new members.