Catherine McAuley

The Heart of Mercy

The story of Mercy begins with one woman – Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the House of Mercy – her life, her experiences, and her belief in the dignity of the person and the call to care for the poor.

In 1827 after years of caring for her family, friends and those without means, Catherine received an unexpected inheritance and did the unthinkable – she used her inheritance to open the first House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin – one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Catherine had a vision to create opportunities for lay women with means to interact directly with the poor. Those living in nearby and distant slums were welcomed to the House of Mercy.

Catherine inspired and encouraged those at the center of wealth, power, and influence to join her efforts to connect the rich to the poor, and the powerful to the weak.

In 1831, at the age of 53, Catherine and two other women took their vows and became the first Sisters of Mercy. Catherine realized the need to establish a religious structure that would continue the existence, and perhaps ensure the perpetuity, of what was being established as the House of Mercy.

From that moment, until her death in 1841, Catherine extended her vision by establishing (through the Church) other Foundations or “Houses of Mercy” in 11 locations throughout Ireland and England. She also laid plans for the Sisters to come to North America and establish a Foundation in Nova Scotia.

Catherine McAuley and her Sisters of Mercy created a consciousness around the public’s responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable, and the world.