Profiles in Faith - July
As part of our initiative for the Year of Faith, Veritas is proud to present Profiles in Faith, a series of essays on the life and work of Christian men and women who lived their lives as ‘faith in action’. We encourage you to read the accounts, and to reflect on them over the course of the month. Additional biographical sources are also suggested, should you wish to find out more.
Profile Ten: Catherine McAuley
Catherine McAuley was born on 29 September 1778 in Drumcondra, Dublin. Her father, James, was an ambitious and energetic merchant, who started out as a carpenter and craftsman and progressed to an elegant residence on twenty-one acres in the north of the city. Unfortunately, he died when Catherine was five years old. This led directly to what must have been a sad childhood. Her mother, in poor health, died before Catherine was twenty years old. Catherine, as a result, spent most of her youth in the houses of others: relatives on her mother’s side, some poor, and none providing the security and support that might be needed by a young adult.
Catherine quickly became aware, through observation and experience, of the importance of taking care of people and of what caring really means. For her, care was more than material relief. It included a very human quality of compassion and understanding founded on the love of God and Jesus Christ. It meant a respect for the dignity of each person. It involved a sense of urgency, as the changing circumstances of life always call for a loving response in the moment. ‘The poor need help now, not next week,’ Catherine would say later.
||The first focus of her apostolate was the care of six orphans from the village of Coolock. With a generous inheritance from a family called the Callaghans, she bought and staffed a house for young women and girls, to teach them, train them and form them in the virtues and talents they needed to achieve success in this life and salvation in the next. In 1827, she opened the House of Mercy on Baggot Street, a fashionable south Dublin thoroughfare. Two hundred girls enrolled on the first day of school and thirty girls were accommodated permanently.
During the fifteen years left to her, under Catherine’s direction the Mercy community in Baggot Street began to look more and more like a convent. The women who ran the house kept to a rule of life with common prayer, work and living. After some time, Catherine applied to Rome for official recognition for her sisterhood, which was readily granted. The Sisters of Mercy adopted the purposes of ‘the visitation of the sick poor and the charitable instruction of poor females’. The sisters soon recruited over a hundred new members, and new foundations at home and abroad were added every year.
Catherine died of tuberculosis at the House of Mercy on 11 November 1841, but the Sisters of Mercy went from strength to strength. One of Mother McAuley’s ambitions was to open a hospital where the poor would always have access to treatment. This came to fruition when the Sisters of Mercy purchased a site on Eccles Street on Dublin’s north side, and opened the Mater Misericordiae Hospital (Mother of Mercy) in 1861, now known familiarly as the Mater. A sister hospital was founded in Belfast in the 1880s.
| Through the decades, the Mercy Sisters journeyed from Ireland around the world, bringing the vision of mercy to new places. Today the Sisters of Mercy are found in many countries, in hospitals, schools, care centres, in the streets of cities and in the homes of the poor. In Ireland they number over three thousand members. Pope John Paul II bestowed the title ‘Venerable’ on Mother Catherine McAuley, Sister of Mercy, in 1990.
- Who are the ‘Catherine McAuleys’ in your own parish community?
- Who sees the needs of those who are poor, and responds to them?
- How can you contribute to this work?
Learn more about the mercy International Association at http://www.mercyworld.org/
Previous Profiles in Faith:
June 2013: Blessed Irish Martyrs
May 2013: Frère Roger
April 2013: Blessed Edmund Rice
March 2013: St Patrick
February 2013: Dorothy Day
January 2013: St Francis of Assisi
December 2012: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
November 2012: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
October 2012: Thomas Merton
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