Catherine McAuley founded the order of the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831.
In a society marred by socio-political forces that protected the privileged and oppressed the poor, the majority of whom were Catholics, Catherine McAuley became one of Irelands greatest social reformers. She founded and led a women’s community movement of direct, uncloistered advocacy and service to the poor, sick and ignorant in Ireland.
Catherine devoted her life and resources to bring an end to the chronic poverty that she saw around her, and to alleviate the suffering of those who had no access to education and who suffered ill health and homelessness.
In 1827 Catherine McAuley opened a house to help the poor in Baggot Street, Dublin, Ireland. She and her companions conducted a school, visited the sick, provided childcare, sheltered the homeless and provided training for unemployed young women.
On 12 December 1831, Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy. She was a very prayerful, humble woman who had an unbounded confidence in God. She constantly reminded those with whom she came in contact: “Our centre is God from whom all our actions should spring as from their source.”
Catherine believed in the education of women. She appreciated the unique contribution they were capable of making on behalf of society and she wanted to empower women in whatever sphere they found themselves, so that they could effect a shift towards a more just society. This desire to empower women in society is one of the main characteristics of the Sisters of Mercy.
Catherine, an extraordinary woman, a woman of deep faith and trust in God, died in 1841, ten years after founding the order. After her death her work spread across the world to the United States, Newfoundland and, in the same decade as her death, to Australia.
The Feast Day of Catherine McAuley is 24 September.