Mother Mary Teresa Austin Carroll
A biography written by Paula Diann Marlin rsm
Margaret Anne Carroll was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary on February 23, 1835, the fourth of nine children of William and Margaret Strahan Carroll. From her father she acquired a special appreciation of Irish history and literature. She also learned to be generous to the poor during the famine years. These early lessons influenced the direction of her life.
By the time she was 16, the Sisters of Mercy were flourishing near Clonmel and the “walking nuns” caught her attention and stole her heart. She liked the way Mother Catherine McAuley’s followers assisted disadvantaged women by instructing them in both religion and work skills.
In 1853, Margaret Carroll entered Saint Maries of the Isle in Cork, whose superior, Mother Mary Josephine Warde, had been one of Catherine’s early co-workers. Mother Josephine imbued Margaret with the ideals and hopes, dreams and spirit of the foundress. She received the habit and the name Sister Mary Teresa Austin in 1854, and professed first vows in 1856.
Mother Josephine received an urgent appeal from her sister, Mother Mary Francis Xavier Warde, who had re-located in Providence. She desperately needed experienced sister-teachers and her letter “excited in many a burning zeal for the missions.” As one of the new volunteers in Providence in 1856, Sister M. Austin served as a teacher and also trained the novices in the finer points of teaching which she had learned at the Clonmel National Model School. She was assigned and reassigned where needed and so served for brief times in Hartford, Buffalo, and Rochester between 1857-1859. When Mother Xavier completed her term in Providence and began a new foundation in Manchester, Sister Mary Austin answered her call for teachers there.
Mother Xavier requested Sister M. Austin to gather material on Mother Catherine McAuley.1 Sister M. Austin wrote to Catherine’s early companions who were still living 18 years after her death and also appealed for information from all convents founded by Catherine. She made great progress during her five years in Manchester, but before she could finish, she went with a new foundation to Omaha. She transferred to St. Louis where the biography was published in 1866.
Sister M. Austin was chosen to go with the delicate Mother Catherine Grant and three others to begin a foundation in New Orleans in 1869. She spent 23 years there, from 1869-1891, as assistant superior, mistress of novices, and superior. She began numerous works of mercy among the white and black populations of the Irish Channel riverfront, on the Gulf coast of Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama, as well as in Belize, Central America. She wrote books and articles to support the sisters multiple efforts for the poor. She translated French spiritual reading books. She gathered information from Mercy communities around the world and published three volumes of the Leaves of the Annals of the Sisters of Mercy in 1881, 1883, and 1889.
Archbishop Janssens achieved his goal of separating the poor Alabama/Florida convents from the New Orleans motherhouse in 1891. Mother Austin Carroll became the superior of the new foundation in Selma, Alabama. At age 56, she accepted the challenge of a new missionary diocese where conditions were primitive and dependence on Divine Providence was paramount. She recruited candidates from Ireland and moved the motherhouse to Mobile in 1895 in the hopes of getting native vocations. That same year the last volume of the Annals was published in Mobile. This four volume series took over 30 years to complete!
Mother Austin removed her name from the slate for re-election as Mother Superior in 1900. She wished to devote her time to research and preparation for death. After a series of strokes, she died on November 29, 1909. “Obituaries…lauded first her life of charity and compassion, then her efforts for schools and justice for all.” She was called a distinguished author and serious scholar who “contributed to the identity of the Sisters of Mercy by helping to keep the same history, tradition, and spirit of Catherine McAuley alive in groups who never saw one another.” 2
Unfortunately, the contents of Mother Austin Carroll’s trunk – her voluminous primary sources that she had spent a lifetime collecting - were destroyed after her death.3 She had lived according to the motto in her ring, one that she shared with Catherine McAuley, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” – All for the Honour and Glory of God.4 Now her writings, especially The Life of Catherine McAuley and the Leaves from the Annals of the Sisters of Mercy, live on after her.
- Sister Hermenia Muldrey, RSM. Abounding in Mercy – Mother Austin Carroll. (New Orleans: Habersham, 1998), p.50 and notes p. 355 #70 – Austin Carroll papers, Archives of Sisters of Mercy, New Orleans.
- Sister Hermenia Muldrey, RSM. “Pittsburgh Papers: Mother Austin Carroll,” The MAST Journal, Fall 1994. p.16.
- Correspondence of Mother Carmelita Hartmann – witnessed by Mother Dominica McGowan as a young sister in Mobile. Union Collection, Institute Archives, Silver Spring.
- Sister M. Ignatia Neumann, RSM ed. Letters of Catherine McAuley 1827-1841. (Baltimore: Helicon, c1969), p.32 and p.57 note #55 (also in Annals Vol. II, p. 449).