Works of Mercy
These line drawings by Clare Agnew, a contemporary of Catherine McAuley, illustrate scenes of the early Sisters of Mercy engaged in the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy in Ireland in the 1830s. They are shown wearing either the traditional Mercy habit or widows’ bonnets and cloaks – a necessary disguise in an Ireland struggling with the legacy of the anti-Catholic penal laws.
'I was hungry and you gave me to eat.'
For several years now, my Congregation has given me money to provide meals to those in our Community who need assistance. I use the money to pay a group of women to prepare home cooked meals, which I then distribute to those who have lost a loved one, or suffered financial hardship or serious illness, or have welcomed a new child.
Meals from the Heart is a confidential ministry, so the privacy of beneficiaries is assured. This ministry continues the Work of Catherine McAuley, who provided sustenance for those women and children she ministered to at Baggot Street, Dublin.
-Teresa Ekerick rsm, School Pastoral Worker, Brisbane Sisters of Mercy
God knows I would rather be cold and hungry than the poor in Kingston or elsewhere should be deprived of any consolation in our power to afford. Letter to Teresa White November 1, 1838
‘I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.'
Water is a human right, necessary for life. I live in Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes which hold 21% of the world’s fresh surface water. We take water for granted; turn on the tap, and it’s always there. But recently, the taps have run dry for thousands of residents of Flint and Detroit. Water was poisoned, and is being shut off to low income households who cannot afford to pay escalating water bills. Catherine understood that water is a gift from God to be held in common for all of creation. We must ensure clean, affordable, public water for all.
"Water is free beverage" was one of her sayings, and therefore the Sisters are allowed a draught of water at any time they may require it. The Practical Sayings of Catherine McAuley, Pg 28
‘Naked and you covered me.'
“My dignity is clothed in this lovely jacket!”
“I have a pair of shoes with laces and no holes in the soles!”
“I have matching socks and a warm pair of gloves.”
“I enjoyed my little “shopping spree” at the Clothing Boutique located at the Gathering Place and the freedom to select items that I need and that I like!”
This service is one part of the multiple programs and services found at this place located in a former school in the center of the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland established by the Presentation Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy.
Here we, the members of The Gathering Place, are clothed with dignity, with more than jackets and shoes – this is our place! Here we are clothed with kindness and compassion
Our charity must be in our hearts and from our hearts, and a charity such as Jesus Christ practiced while on earth. Retreat Instructions, pg. 148
'I was a stranger and you took me in.'
In 19th century Dublin Catherine McAuley understood that women living in poverty and homelessness would never be able to get ahead if they didn’t have a job and a home. Catherine didn’t just hand out soup on the streets; she brought young women into her home. She ensured they were trained and then found positions for them – homes in which they could live and work.
In its 21st century incarnation, we call this approach ‘Housing First’. It is evidence based and the most effective way to end people’s experience of homelessness. Catherine saw that the problem wasn’t an individual one, but a system that routinely withheld jobs and housing from women in poverty. She changed that system.
In Australia, the Mercy Foundation follows in these same footsteps today – seeking structural change, housing and employment for people experiencing homelessness
-Felicity Reynolds, CEO, The Mercy Foundation
It is better to relieve a hundred imposters-if there be any such- than to suffer one really distressed person to be sent away empty. Familiar Instructions, p. 136
'I was sick and you took care of me.'
“Catherine understood the holistic need to help the poor sick. It is from this deeper understanding of looking after the whole person that I was called to homeopathy, a natural health modality.
My practice is focused on where the person, the science, art, and mercy of homeopathy meet. Through this trinity of care a client is listened to with dignity and without prejudice or discrimination.
The potential for personal growth is recognised as clients’ journey towards inner peace and joy and a sense of well-being. It is an absolute privilege to be walking with these clients and be part of the healing ministry of Jesus.”
The comfort comes soon after a well-received trial. Letter to Francis Warde February 17, 1838
'Amen, I say to you: as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did it to me.'
Catherine McAuley, the first Sister of Mercy, dedicated her life and fortune to caring for person who were poor, sick and uneducated. She shared tremendous respect for the dignity of each person. Her traditions of mercy hospitality, compassionate service, professional accountability or wise stewardship and ability to empower others remain important hallmarks of the Sisters of Mercy and the Mother of Mercy Hospital which was founded in Tacloban, PH in 2010.
Our doctors, nurses and staff and the service they provide to our patients are the most important element in living out our mission. Inspired by Mt. 25:40 “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do it unto me” each day we are reminded of the values that was imbibed by the Sisters of Mercy and we bring them to life in all that they do.
We join the Mercy Sisters all over the globe, in keeping alive the founding spirit of Mother Catherine among those who are in need of God’s mercy and compassion.
-Sisters of Mercy Philippines
God does not look at the action but at the spirit motivating it, and he will judge and reward us accordingly. Retreat Instructions, p.82
‘I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Sister Margie, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do to survive.”
Anne spoke these words to me as we sat in her prison cell, a sparse space with a metal bed and toilet. I journeyed with Anne during her period of incarceration listening to her stories of how her life had spiralled down over the years. Addicted. unemployed, hungry and homeless, Anne survived by becoming part of the sex trade industry. She would often roam the streets at night, eventually sleeping next to her mother’s graveside where she felt safe and secure. Gradually the years of turmoil and oppression began to diminish through the companionship Anne experienced. She felt empowered and no longer victimized.
Now I can hear Anne say: “Sister Margie, now I am a woman who wants to live her life with dignity.”
-Margie Taylor rsm, Prison Chaplain, Sisters of Mercy Newfoundland
Try to meet all with peace and ease. Letter to Elizabeth Moore December, 1838
‘And the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it.'
No two funerals are the same. Why should they be; after all, each of us is unique?
The Catholic Church offers a structure for us to pray for the deceased, comfort each other, and offer thanks giving and praise to God for the life of the person who has died.
Working for a funeral directors is a real privilege to care for the person who has died and accompany their family and friends on the journey as they say their final goodbyes in this life.
Our lives are not measured in years, but are measured in the lives of people we touch around us.’ (Peeta Mellark)
Cathy Edge rsm, Funeral Arranger, Great Britain Institute
Each day is a step which we take toward Eternity and we shall continue thus from day to day until we take the last step into bringing us into the Presence of God Retreat Instructions, p. 185
‘For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.’
Imagine this scene if painted today!
Though dressed quite differently, these two women would be equally intense…..the one on the right obviously desperate as she stretches out her arm to pass on a note indicating that she needs help; the one on the left, also clothed quite differently would be listening intently, praying in her heart for God’s wisdom and guidance, and ready to help in whatever way she can.
Which one am I? Am I seeking help, or am I listening and praying and allowing myself to be the channel of God’s guidance and wisdom?
Trusting in God’s grace I will be eagerly concerned for “the other” and be happily bringing love and care to “the other.”
Mary Hanrahan rsm, Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand
You must be cheerful and happy, animating all around you. Letter to Frances Warde February 17, 1838
‘They that instruct many to justice shall shine as stars for all Eternity.’
“Ignorant” is one of my favorite words. Although I am not sure if it would qualify as onomatopoeic, it certainly has a bold, “in-your-face” character to it. I simply cringe when sisters substitute the tamer, more socially acceptable “uneducated” in reference to our vows or ministry. There is a world of difference between the two terms. Many highly educated people are woefully and even willfully ignorant. They ignore the plight of the immigrant and refugee, the unrecognized racism that continues to fray the fabric of our society, and the environment crying out for our attention. We can instruct the ignorant by word and deed.
‘No work of charity can be more productive of good to society, or more conducive to the happiness of the poor than the careful instruction of women, since whatever be the station they are destined to fill, their example and advice will always possess influence...' Rules and Constitutions of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, Chapter 2 'Of the Schools'
‘Correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instructions.'
In 201 dozens of Mercy sisters, associates, students, volunteers and co-workers throughout the United States participated in the Women’s March as a visible witness to our concern for women and girls. We marched in 2018 for immigrants facing sexual violence on their journeys, for girls around the world seeking equal access to education, for mothers grieving for children lost to gun violence and lack of health care. Our marching has turned now to solidarity with women of color who fear that their children may have deadly encounters with police, to protesting policies that forcibly separate women from their children at the U.S. border, and to advocating with mothers opposing polluting industries in their communities and demanding access to clean water.
Marianne Comfort, Justice Coordinator for Earth, Anti-Racism and Women, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Do not fear offending anyone. Speak as your mind directs and always act with more courage when the “mammon of unrighteousness” is in question Letter to Mary Ann Doyle, 24 July, 1841
‘Look after orphans and widows in their distress.'
I was visiting Anna, a young woman in detention and had brought her some flowers because I knew she loved them. I was not allowed out of one section, and fearing I might not be able to see her, I sent the flowers ahead with a message telling her I would be late. Shortly afterwards, my meeting was interrupted. Anna stormed in, hurling the flowers on the floor. “It’s you I want, not flowers!” This experience made me appreciate the value of presence. Presence offers comfort, compassion and the promise of faithfulness to the person who is afflicted.
Helen Barnes rsm, Parramatta Congregation
There are three things that the poor prize more highly than gold, tho’ they cost the donor nothing; among these are the kind word, the gentle, compassionate look and the patient hearing of their sorrows. Familiar Instructions, pg 138
‘Blessed are you when They insult you and persecute you…. ‘
There are many forms of abuse today. As a young woman from Sudan, I have experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse, details of which are still too traumatic for me to recall.
My journey here over land, sea and air, was one of expectation and promise, but also filled with terror of the unknown. What will be the country of my destination? How will I cope?
On arrival, I am suddenly awakened to my fate and beaten into submission by my trafficker when I refuse to perform sexual acts for paying clients, sometimes twenty to thirty times daily.
I am losing count of days and time but fortuitously, my brothel is raided by police. I escape and while still in my ‘working gear,’ I am brought battered, bruised and broken, to a safe house – Catherine’s house of Mercy – here I find comfort and support.
The sisters here are compassionate and understanding of my position, pain and loneliness. They are doing all that is possible for me to put my life back together again.
-Mary Ryan rsm (The Congregation) MECPATHS Founder Member
What an ineffable consolation to serve Christ himself, in the person of the poor, and to walk in the very same path He trod! Familiar Instructions Pg.16
‘And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’
Mercy Law Resource Centre , Cork St, Dublin, was set up in 2009 by South Central Province to provide free legal services to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It focuses specifically on areas of social housing and related social welfare law. MLRC assists clients from the stage of initial advice to whatever representation is required, including court if necessary. At present it deals with from 250- 300 contacts a month.
The service seeks to operate with compassion, expertise and care for the dignity of each client on the margins of our society aiming also to help bring about social change by publishing two policy reports on the right to housing and a third on children and homelessness.
Caitriona O'Hara, Administrator, Mercy Law Resource Centre
Mercy receives the ungrateful again and again, and is never weary in pardoning them Familiar Instructions, p. 137
‘It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead...’
2 Maccabees 12:45
Pray for the living and the dead” A very clear directive and one that has been faithfully observed by Sisters of Mercy from our earliest of times to the present day, but with a further dimension: “Pray for and with the living and the dead”.
The living out of this command can be seen in Mother Clare’s evocative image - the Sisters gathered with the grieving family. Throughout the years this has been continued by Sisters in hospitals and schoolrooms of countries spread across the globe, in refugee camps, in parish and eucharistic communities, in the care of the young and the old, the homeless and those in danger.
Through our prayer, the presence of God becomes a reality in our world into which all can enter and this will continue to be so as we “pray for and with the living and the dead”.
-Anne McMillan rsm, (ISMAPNG)
Prayer is a plant the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, but its growth entirely depends on the care we take to nourish it. Retreat Instructions, p.90