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. As the number of lay co-workers at Baggot Street increased, so did severe lay and clerical criticism of the House: Why did these women look like a religious order, yet not abide by the normal regulations of religious orders? Who was this "upstart" Miss McAuley? Why was the "unlearned sex" doing the work of the clergy?
By 1830 Catherine and her co-workers realized that the stability of the works of mercy they performed, including visiting the sick poor in their homes and in hospitals, and their continued appeal to co-workers, called for revision of their lay community. So, on 8 September, Catherine McAuley, Anna Maria Doyle, and Elizabeth Harley entered the Presentation Convent in Dublin to begin formal preparation for founding the Sisters of Mercy.
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. The rule and constitutions of the congregation were not completed until 1834, nor approved until 1835, yet they contained in substance only that which had been observed from the year 1827.
The rapid expansion of the Sisters of Mercy in the six years 1835-1841 flowed from Catherine McAuley's ever generous response to human need. She founded nine additional autonomous Convents of Mercy in 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).
Catherine McAuley died on 11 November 1841.
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 a house in Guernsey.
In 1992 the leaders of the various congregations created the Mercy International Association to foster collaboration and cooperation. The purpose of the association is to provide support and foster collaboration, organisation and inspiration for the ministries of the Sisters of Mercy and their associates.
The sisters were the first nurses to respond to the British Government request for nurses in the Crimea in 1853. They ran several hospitals during the war and provided nurses who were not under the control of Florence Nightingale. However their involvement was overshadowed by hers for political reasons.
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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."
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.
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. Mercy Health is an NPO Catholic healthcare organization in the Midwestern United States, and is headquartered in the suburban western St. Louis County suburb of Chesterfield, Missouri.
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.