Catherine McAuley had no intention of founding a religious institution when she established a house in Dublin for the care of destitute women and orphans. Orphaned herself, and raised by kindly guardians, she had long felt a strong desire to be of service to the poor. When she came into a sizeable inheritance she saw her opportunity.
A number of other women joined her in her work, and they received the blessing of the archbishop. He authorized them to wear a distinctive garb, to visit the sick, and to call themselves Sisters of Mercy. Still, it was some time before they began to consider forming a religious congregation. Catherine wished the sisters to combine a commitment to contemplative prayer with active service in the world. Their mission quickly extended to all the works of mercy—managing schools, hospitals, and orphanages; caring for the hungry and homeless; and visiting prisoners.
In 1831 the first Sisters of Mercy took their vows, and Catherine became Mother Mary Catherine, the first superior of the new congregation. In her lifetime she established twelve communities in Ireland and two in England, though later the sisters would spread to North America and around the world. She died in her original House of Mercy in Dublin on November 11, 1841. In 1990 she was declared venerable in the process of canonization.
“Each day is a step we make towards eternity and we shall continue thus to step from day to day until we take the last step, which will bring us into the presence of God.”
—Venerable Catherine McAuley