Mother Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy
|Formation||12 December 1831|
|Founded at||Dublin, Ireland|
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.
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. While they were in training, Miss Mary Warde managed the affairs of the Baggot Street house. 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: 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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Sisters of Mercy is an international community of Roman Catholic women religious vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children. Members take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the evangelical counsels commonly vowed in religious life, and, in addition, vows of service. They continue to participate in the life of the surrounding community. In keeping with their mission of serving the poor and needy, many sisters engage in teaching, medical care, and community programs. The organization is active in lobbying and politics.
The Sisters of Mercy are constituted as religious and charitable organizations in a number of countries. Mercy International Association is a registered charity in the Republic of Ireland.
On 20 May 2009, the institute was condemned in an Irish government report known as the Ryan Report, the work of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Sisters of Mercy in Ireland are one of four congregations of religious women there who have come under scrutiny and criticism for their part in running Magdalene laundries in decades past, where women were brought by the state or their families for being unmarried and pregnant, or for other reasons. The report found that girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but instead endured frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless.
The Mercy Sisters have noted they were not compensated for caring for the women and that the laundries were not profit-making ventures. "We acknowledge fully the limitations of the service we provided for these women when compared with today's standards and sincerely wish that it could have been different. We trust that the implications of the changed context are understood by the wider society."
Sacred Heart Secondary School, County Louth
In 1849 Bishop Pompallier visited St Leo's Convent in Carlow, Ireland, seeking sisters to emigrate; eight left from St Leo's, led by Mother Mary Cecilia. They travelled to New Zealand, learning Māori along the way, establishing the Sisters of Mercy in Auckland as the first female religious community in New Zealand in 1850.
Michael O'Connor was born in Cobh, Ireland. In June 1841, O'Connor was appointed Vicar General of Western Pennsylvania, and two years later, Bishop of the newly constituted Diocese of Pittsburg. He traveled to Rome for his consecration and on his return, stopped in Ireland to recruit clergy for his new diocese, obtaining eight seminarians from Maynooth College and seven Sisters of Mercy from Dublin. The sisters arrived in Pittsburgh in December 1843, led by Sister Frances Warde. Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania opened 1898.
In 1858, Mother Mary Teresa Maher led a group of ten Sisters of Mercy to Cincinnati from Kinsale, Ireland. In 1892, the eleven Sisters of Mercy came to Cincinnati at the invitation of Archbishop John Baptist Purcell. They soon opened a Night School for Young Women. Mercy Hospital in Hamilton, Ohio was founded in 1892. Mother of Mercy High School was founded in 1915. They also direct Bethany House Services for homeless women and children.
By the 1920s there were 39 separate Sisters of Mercy congregations across the United States and Latin America. In 1929 the "Sisters of Mercy of the Union" was founded, merging many of the congregations into one single entity with nine provinces. Seventeen communities remained independent. A federation of all the Mercy congregations was formed and in the 1970s, a common constitution was developed. Further work toward consolidation continued, and in July 1991, the "Sisters of Mercy of the Americas was established". In December 2018, the sisters marked 175 in the US. (The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan developed from the Sisters of Mercy in 1973 and remains a separate congregation.)
In July 2017 "Mercy Education System of the Americas" (MESA) was formally established to unite and serve the Mercy education ministries in Argentina, Belize, Guam, Honduras, Jamaica, the Philippines and the United States.
The Sisters founded dozens of hospitals in the United States, and sponsors, or co-sponsors, six health systems. The organization also operates health care ministries in Belize, Guam, Guyana, Peru and the Philippines.
In 1916, the Sisters of Mercy established Sisters of Mercy's St. Joseph's Sanitarium, in Asheville, North Carolina, to treat tuberculosis patients, which later became St. Joseph's Hospital. In 1998, St. Joseph's Hospital was sold to Memorial Mission Hospital. The Sisters continue to operate urgent care centers in the Asheville area, under the name Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care.