June 19, 2013
On September 24th, we celebrate Mercy Day. On that day, in 1827 Catherine McAuley did the unthinkable. She used her million dollar inheritance to open the first House of Mercy in Baggot Street – right in the heart of Dublin’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. She inspired many to walk with her and animated others at the centre of wealth, power and influence to share in her heroic efforts of connecting the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, the educated and skilled to the uninstructed and the powerful to the weak to do the work of God on earth.
In preparation for the feast we invited 8 Mercy people to share with us ‘Who is Catherine for me?’ Between now and September 19th , we will publish two of these reflections each week.
Messages to: Mary Reynolds rsm - Executive Director MIA
Some years ago while on a visit to the U.S. I read a book entitled ‘The Lady from Dublin’- the life of Catherine Elizabeth McAuley. I was absolutely blown away by the story, captivated by the personality of this ordinary yet extraordinary Dublin woman who was deeply in love with her God and with God's people and who gave away all that she possessed to the poor of her city.
Catherine’s charism, that capacity within her to enthuse and inspire immediately took root in me and since that day 25 years ago my life has never been the same. As I got to know this beautiful woman of God over a period of time, through reading , research and above all by inviting her to pray with me on life’s journey towards God we have developed a most beautiful friendship. Catherine and Anne have become soul friends.
Anne ( left front) with participants of a "Come Home to Catherine" programme in the grounds at Baggot Street.
Over these 25 years of growing in friendship I have discovered much about Catherine that I love and admire. She seems to have been so much at home within herself, radiating a love that was boundless and qualities that drew people towards her . Today Catherine continues to touch lives ,to draw and to inspire.
To me Catherine McAuley ranks very high among the ‘holy people’ of all times. She was a remarkable woman of vision with a complete trust in the providence of God and oozed that God living deep within her. I am humbled and very privileged that ’ The Lady from Dublin’ walks the journey of faith with me and that I can with great confidence call her ‘Friend Catherine’ .
Messages to: Anne Reid
I was on a sabbatical year from 2011 to 2012 and spent the final 4 months on a voluntary basis in our International Centre in Baggot St, Dublin.
Part of my work was hospitality to visitors from all over the world, taking them on tours of the house and giving them time to pray and reflect at Catherine’s grave. I was amazed at the influence Catherine has today among people from all walks of life and all over the world. This proves to me that Catherine’s legacy of the charism of Mercy is “alive and well”!
Most people who visit Baggot Street do so because of their experience of Mercy through being educated in Mercy Institutions or having the opportunity to work in such institutions.
Catherine McAuley was, among other things, a determined spiritual and trusting woman who gave education and self respect to the poverty stricken people of Dublin and Ireland. Her determination as an orphaned teenager helped her to practice her catholic faith secretly when sharing the lived first of the protestant Armstrong family and later the Callaghans. She tells us that she reminded herself of the cross by studying the frames of the glass in window panes. This determination was again manifested in her entrance to the Presentation novitiate at the mature age of 52 in Georges Hill. Such an act was the only way she could continue her work among the poor.
She had a great confidence in youth appointing young and inexperienced Sisters to leadership roles in new communities. Such communities then became independent groups while Catherine moved onto found new ones.
Catherine had a complete trust in divine providence no matter what life dealt her. Though many young women joined her ranks cholera, consumption and other illnesses depleted their numbers almost as fast as they came. In one year alone 7 Sisters died all in their twenties. The loss of her sister and niece added to her sorrows which caused her to comment that the grave was never closed in her regard.
There is much to be admired, learned and followed from such an outstanding woman who contributed so much to society. She was a woman for all seasons who was far ahead of her time.
Messages to: Joan Breen
Catherine McAuley was a pragmatic, intelligent woman. She was a clever business person, a strong leader and a woman of action. In the schism between the wealthy and the poor of Dublin in the late 1700s, Catherine chose to tend to the poor. She saw human need and acted upon it in a manner which has set the vision for people of Mercy ever since.
When faced with the challenges of a modern world, the modern executive must respond and react in much the same way Catherine did. They must apply wit, wisdom and pragmatism to influence real change and they must do so within the parameters of the time.
In short, they must express humanity.
second from left, facing camera - John Reynolds at a Mater Board meeting
However, in a world where humanity is sometimes considered less valuable than gold, many of our executives are unable to meet the human needs of their people. Indeed, they sometimes struggle even to understand their own humanity. As a result, they feel isolated and hollow. This absence of meaning is a kind of new poverty; a poverty of spirit.
I believe there is an opportunity and a responsibility for today’s people of Mercy to attend to these lost souls and help mend their spirit; to address this new poverty in the same way that Catherine attended the needs of the financially impoverished.
By taking the teachings of Mercy and reminding our corporate leaders of their humanity through the inspiring and empowering story of Catherine McAuley, we can begin to offer clarity and courage for a kinder corporate world.
Messages to: John Reynolds
Catherine McAuley came into my life as a student born in Samoa but now living in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sisters dressed in black with ebony crosses tucked into their cinctures quietly working and witnessing their chosen way of life. What made these women tick? What heavenly power was pulling them together? They spoke of their foundress as though she was living in community with them. Who was this hidden forceful woman who had such influence and capacity to lure and dare these women to follow in her footsteps?
Later as a Samoan woman I too became a follower of Catherine, but times had changed from my school days. I now saw Catherine as a woman of faith, love, mercy and compassion. She became alive for me as I learnt to love and appreciate her as a faithful woman of the Gospels. Her readiness to answer invitations for the Sisters to go wherever there was a possibility of making God known and loved still continues today as the sisters become a presence in the many places where they work.
Over the years I have seen many great changes in our Mercy religious life – how we have lived and ministered. The works we have done have changed in line with the needs of the time. By reconfiguring our structures we hoped to better serve our mission of Mercy – to reach out in love and compassion to those in need. I dare to dream that Catherine’s spirit is still moving around her Sisters and keeping us true to the Gospel.
To know Catherine is to love her and we continue to follow her legacy.
She was compelled to take risks for the sake of Mercy’
Catherine was a God bearer, the one who carried God.
Catherine still inspires me today.
Messages to: Priscilla Kohlhase rsm c/- Katrina Fabish rsm Congregation leadership Team
Many times in my life I feel weak and empty, and sometimes I am struggling to accept my vulnerability but when I partisipated in a Come Home to Catherine programme , May 1-7, 2011 in Baggot Street, Dublin, Ireland, she lifted me up from my frailty and emptiness. I felt an amazing energy touch my heart in a way which I did not understand. Catherine’s spirit manifested itself in and through my journey of life.
I went to Catherine’s room and as I held Catherine’s profession ring, the tears kept flowing from my eyes because I remembered the motto chosen at my perpetual profession and inscribed on my own ring “Emptying...leads me to wholeness.”
I was immediately re-living the fire incident that happened in our convent and school in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte last January 9, 2010. It was the first year of my ministry assignment as School Directress. Nothing was saved except our own selves (three sisters living in the convent). The convent and part of the High School building were turned into ashes. I was overcome with a range of feelings, shock, guilt, anger, disturbance, the deep pain - feelings like I had never experience before.
In my upset state, I questioned my faith and my relationship with God. Why me? Is this the plan of God? Where is God and Catherine in this incident? Why did God and Catherine allow this catastrophe to happened to us? I myself, like the building, felt like my life was reduced to pieces and ashes. I waned to give up my vocation, I felt worth nothing and useless. But as I began to pick up the pieces again in Catherine’s home and my home also, I came to realize that I have to surrender everything to God, even my own faith.
Self-emptying is very painful. I need to let go of what I have in order to live my motto and my Vows. I believe that it was Catherine’s desire to make me whole again that led me to reflect on a passage from a book by Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, (The Courage of Powerlessness) “The religious woman of tomorrow will not possess authority flowing from the external power of the Church, she will have the courage to be powerless, she will believe that life arises from death, and that love – the message of the Cross, the grace of God – are strong enough to bring about the one thing necessary, that is, that a woman should be able willingly to abandon herself to the incomprehensibility of existence, in faith and in hope.”
Catherine was a woman with the courage to be powerless, abandoning herself to the loving and faithful providence of God, in faith and in hope. Catherine inspires me to take courage as I go on with my journey in life, despite the many difficulties that I encounter. She is really a woman that sings of mercy and courage, a woman of faith and hope.
Lastly, Catherine inspired me with her own words, spoken at the time she was dying. One of the sisters said to Catherine, “Mother don’t leave us! What will congregation do if you die?” and the quiet answer of the dying woman was: “If the order is my work, the sooner it falls to the ground the better. If it is God’s work, it needs no one.” Catherine teaches me to pray for the grace of letting go and letting others “be”; of becoming an empty reed that lets God be my God.
Messages to: Jean D. Delgado rsm
When I first met Catherine McAuley I didn’t know her name. I found her in the generosity, care and concern of the Sisters of Mercy who taught me at secondary school. Through these women I realised that values of justice and integrity co-existed comfortably with generosity and compassion. Over time I have come to know the story of Catherine which inspires and invigorates me. I value the openness, caring and hospitality given to those in need.
Today, at Mercy Hospital in Dunedin, a Mercy way-of-being invites me to be responsive to today’s need. Walking in Catherine’s shadow calls me to be open to all that crosses my path and to encourage others to live in the same openness. Recently a small donation of breakfast cereal from a potential supplier resulted in staff and other suppliers becoming part of a breakfast for staff, family and friends. This was great for staff morale and raised considerable funds for breast cancer research.
Janice McDrury, front row, on left, with other long serving staff of Mercy Hospital
Catherine’s legacy is however wider than this and demands constant alertness to needs in our community. I am privileged to work on a number of projects. The most recent involved the setting up of a Community Kitchen as part of a Grow, Cook, Eat programme at The Hub, an initiative of the Methodist Mission. The kitchen is in South Dunedin one of the poorest areas in New Zealand. Through this programme families are encouraged to ‘Grow’ vegetables, ‘Cook’ economical and healthy meals which can be ‘Eat’(en) by the family. For me the hallmark of mercy-in-action is the nurturing, affirming and energising outcomes that speak to today’s world of Catherine McAuley.
Messages to: Janice McDrury
This past July, I was blessed to have been part of Watering The Roots at the Wellsprings of Mercy. This time and space at Catherine’s house was especially valuable to me, as it was part of my preparation for perpetual profession as a Sister of Mercy.
At Eucharist in the Baggot Street Chapel during the Wellsprings programme in July. Marie is the second from the end on the right
Photo: courtesy Adele Howard rsm
I first became acquainted with Catherine McAuley about ten years ago, when I moved to St. John’s and joined the Associate Program of the Sisters of Mercy. As I listened, learned and shared in the associate groups, I became more and more intrigued by Catherine – by her life, her letters, her works of Mercy, her instructions to her sisters. While I felt I was living a fairly full life, I began to sense in myself a desire for MORE, and I grew to understand that this MORE was somehow connected with Catherine McAuley.
What was it about Catherine that intrigued me so much? I was inspired by her great trust in God’s providential care, by her generosity of spirit, by her energy and commitment, and by her ability to laugh at, in a positive way, the funny things of life in herself and in others. The fact that she was a woman somewhat advanced in years, living with and caring for family members and the fact that she accomplished so much in one decade also spoke to me. At that time, I was in my late thirties, and was feeling that a piece of the puzzle of my life was still missing.
Marie in Dublin in July, far right. Photo courtesy Mary Lynch rsm
I found that as I came to know Catherine better, something in me was stirring. I was deeply inspired by her spirit of prayer, her desire to help those less fortunate, and her ability to touch people where they were. I felt myself being drawn by her spirit, and I wanted to know her and her way of life better. Her letters especially spoke to my heart, as through them I felt that I was sharing in her hopes, disappointments, struggles, in her very life.
Over the past ten years I have had many opportunities to learn about Catherine McAuley from her letters, from articles, from conferences and especially from sharing with those who have inherited her spirit – the Sisters of Mercy that I know. Catherine continues to be a guiding light for me, giving me direction and helping me to appreciate and grow in the spirit of Mercy.
Messages to: Marie Etheridge rsm
I don’t at all recommend it but I smuggled a dried chunk of peat moss from Catherine’s hearth at the House of Mercy into the U.S. Not so much smuggled as just packed it up (with the blessing of our beloved Irish Sisters) in my suitcase and sent it through all the high-tech scanners and gadgets.
(l-r) Nancy Corbett with Rachel Wright, media relations for Oklahoma City, who is on the Mercy newsmaking team with Nancy, meeting in St Louis at Mercy Health Systems.
Photo courtesy Mercy Health Systems.
So why would a silly American do such a thing? Because I was so taken with Catherine, the House of Mercy on Baggot Street and the works of the Sisters of Mercy that I desperately wanted to appoint a time in the cooler months to sit in front of a smoldering peat fire and sip a “comfortable” (and I do mean the Irish interpretation of “comfortable”) cup of tea in honor of Catherine.
Because for me, Catherine and the Sisters of Mercy embody everything right with this world. They inspire me every day. They are the doers, never the watchers. There’s an early photo of one of the Oklahoma Sisters of Mercy that embraces the spirit of mercy and joy and their uncanny ability to meet people wherever they are.
It’s a photo of Sister of Mercy Mary Genevieve, in full habit, shooting marbles at ground level with a group of children decades ago. There’s another one of the Sisters, also in full habit, eating watermelon with neighbors. Never sitting on the sidelines, they were always working side by side with those in need.
No one said it better than John Fialka in his book “Sisters”: “Again and again, the Sisters of Mercy reached out to the unloved and impoverished people around them. They walked in areas where no one else would go. They walked in the slums, they walked to the jails, they walked to comfort the sick. They became the ‘walking nuns.’ “
Even as Catherine was on her death bed, she was thinking of others. She wanted to make sure that the new Sisters arriving to the House of Mercy in the damp cold of Dublin would have a comfortable cup of hot tea on their arrival.
Catherine took peat from the bog and kindled a fire that has been banked for almost 200 years. The fire blazes today because people across the globe continue the works of Mercy. So come Nov. 11, the anniversary of the day that Catherine died, I plan to sit by a gloriously earthy smelling peat fire, sip my comfortable cup of tea and raise my cup in honor of every Sister of Mercy who ever graced this planet. A hundred thousand thanks to Catherine and the Sisters of Mercy for inspiring me today and every day.
Author’s note: The term “smuggled” was used very loosely for storytelling purposes. According to airline and agricultural guidelines, peat is not a restricted item.
Messages to: Nancy Corbett