Sisters of Mercy
Photo mcauley.jpg
Mother Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy
Formation12 December 1831
Founded atDublin, Ireland
TypeReligious congregation
Catherine McAuley Edit this at Wikidata

The Religious Sisters of Mercy (R.S.M.) are members of a religious institute of Catholic women founded in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland, by Catherine McAuley (1778–1841). As of 2019, the institute has about 6200 sisters worldwide, organized into a number of independent congregations. They also started many education and health care facilities around the globe.



The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy began when Catherine McAuley used an inheritance to build a large house on Baggot Street, Dublin, as a school for poor girls and a shelter for homeless servant girls and women. She was assisted in the works of the house by local women. There was no idea then of founding a religious institution; McAuley's plan was to establish a society of secular ladies who would spend a few hours daily in instructing the poor. Gradually the ladies adopted a black dress and cape of the same material reaching to the belt, a white collar and a lace cap and veil. In 1828, Archbishop Daniel Murray advised Miss McAuley to choose some name by which the little group might be known, and she chose that of "Sisters of Mercy", having the design of making the works of mercy the distinctive feature of the institute. She was, moreover, desirous that the members should combine with the silence and prayer of the Carmelite, the active labors of a Sister of Charity. The position of the institute was anomalous, its members were not bound by vows nor were they under a particular rule. Archbishop Murray asked the Sisters of Mercy to declare their intentions as to the future of their institute, whether it was to be classed as a religious congregation or to become secularized. The associates unanimously decided to become religious. It was deemed better to have this congregation unconnected with any already existing community.[1]

On the Octave of the Ascension 1829 the archbishop blessed the chapel of the institution and dedicated it to Our Lady of Mercy. This combination of the contemplative and the active life necessary for the duties of the congregation called forth so much opposition that it seemed as though the community, now numbering twelve, must disband; but it was settled that several of the sisters should make their novitiates in some approved religious house and after their profession return to the institute to train the others to religious life. The Presentation Sisters, whose rule was based on the Rule of St. Augustine, seemed best adapted for the training of the first novices of the new congregation and Miss McAuley, Miss Elizabeth Harley, and Miss Anna Maria Doyle began their novitiate at George's Hill, Dublin, on 8 September 1830.[1] While they were in training, Miss Mary Warde managed the affairs of the Baggot Street house.[2] On 12 December 1831, Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle, and Mary Elizabeth Harley professed their religious vows as the first Sisters of Mercy, thereby founding the congregation. In 1839 Mary Francis Bridgeman professed her vows and joined the Order.


In the 10 years between the founding and her death on 11 November 1841, McAuley had established additional independent foundations in Ireland and England:[3] Tullamore (1836), Charleville (1836), Carlow (1837), Cork (1837), Limerick (1838), Bermondsey, London (1839), Galway (1840), Birr (1840), and Birmingham (1841), and branch houses of the Dublin community in Kingstown (1835) and Booterstown (1838).

The Sisters offered free schools for the poor, academies for the daughters of the rising middle class, and “houses of mercy”, providing shelter for poor youth and women in Dublin and other cities who were in danger of being exploited. They were called upon by bishops in several major epidemics of cholera to nurse people in homes and in the public hospitals.[4] Their services were in much demand. In May 1842, at the request of Bishop Fleming, a small colony of Sisters of Mercy crossed the Atlantic to found the congregation at St. John's, Newfoundland. The sisters arrived in Perth, Australia in 1846, and in 1850, a band from Carlow arrived in New Zealand. Sisters from Limerick opened a house in Glasgow in 1849, and in 1868, the English community established houses in Shrewsbury and Guernsey.[1]

McAuley opened the first Convent of Mercy in England at Bermondsey on 19 November 1839 for the education of children and the visitation of the poor, sick, and needy. Mother Mary Clare Moore was appointed Superior. The Convent was designed in the ‘Gothic Style’ by Augustus Pugin, his first purpose-designed religious community building. It was destroyed during World War II.[5]

Crimean War

With the London Times reporting appalling conditions at the front, the War Office appealed for volunteer nurses and on October 14, 1854 Bishop Thomas Grant, of Southwark approached the Sisters at Bermondsey.

Boer War

At the request of the bishop of Mahikeng, Dr Anthony Gaughran, sisters came to South Africa to found convents there. Mother Superior Teresa Cowley led a group from the convent in Strabane, with the group acting as nurses to the military during the siege of Mahikeng.[6]

Mercy International Association

In 1992 leaders of the various congregations former the "Mercy International Association" to foster collaboration and cooperation. The Mercy International Centre is located in Dublin. Members of the Association are: