Mary Catherine McAuley

McAuley, Mary Catherine, Rev. Mother, the foundress of the Order of Mercy, was born at Stormestown House, County of Dublin, 29th September 1778.

Her parents, who were Catholics, died whilst she was young, and she and her brother and sister were brought up by Protestants.

At eighteen she was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. O’Callaghan of Coolock House. They were not of her belief; and whilst they were kind and affectionate, and encouraged her self-imposed ministrations amongst the poor, it was almost necessary for her to practise the observances of her religion in private: yet so great was Catherine’s influence that she had the satisfaction of bringing both of them over to the Catholic Church before their decease.

Mr. O’Callaghan died in 1822 (having survived his wife but a few years), leaving Catherine a large fortune, which she determined to devote to works of mercy. She accordingly bought a plot of ground in Baggot-street, Dublin, and without well-defined intentions, laid the foundations of an institution for the education of the young, the protection of servants and women of good character, and to serve as a home for ladies who were willing to devote themselves to the visitation of the sick and dying. This “House of our Blessed Lady of Mercy” was completed in 1827.

For three years Catherine McAuley and her friends continued their ministrations without recognition as a regular order.

On 12th December 1831, she and two of her companions, after a searching novitiate of fifteen months, pronounced, according to the rule of the Presentation Order, their vows of perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience, subject to whatever alteration should be deemed necessary for the due performance of the duties of the new institute of the Sisters of Mercy.

Catherine McAuley was, by Archbishop Murray, canonically appointed Mother Superior. Thus a new order was founded which has since spread over the world, and in 1863 numbered 154 convents under its rule. The Institution of the order was approved by Pope Gregory XVI. in 1835.

Mrs. McAuley died, 11th November 1841, aged 63, and was buried in the little cemetery adjoining the Baggot-street Convent.

One of her biographers says:

“The character of Catherine McAuley … is the most precious legacy that her children can inherit from her. Its chief strength seems to lie in its simplicity. It was this that probably preserved her through the trials to which her faith was exposed during her younger years, and kept her from being chilled and hardened while for so long a period of her life she was unable to practise her religion except in mere necessaries, and was hardly allowed to make any open profession of it. Yet we find her, after she had passed forty, able to begin the work of mercy with which her name will now be connected for ever. What is still more remarkable is the pliancy and gentleness with which she allowed herself and her work to be moulded and directed by authority, without claiming any rights or dictating any conditions on the ground of the large fortune which she brought with her to the undertaking.”


223a. McAuley, Life of Rev. Mother Catherine: Very Rev. R. B. O’Brien, D.D. Dublin, 1864.