To Counsel the Doubtful
Behind the scene ...
It is likely that the early Sisters of Mercy were asked for advice on a range of matters when they visited homes and hospitals or when people came to the Convent in distress. Matters of faith and religious belief were most likely to be among the topics of conversation.
Proselytizing (attempting to convert a person from one religion, belief, or opinion to another) was an issue in nineteenth century Ireland. Prunty (1998, p. 238) observes that “the denominational struggle between Catholic and Protestant charities, in the battle for souls and bodies, is a constant theme, occasionally erupting into full scale and very public warfare. In terms of popular teaching the sides were irreconcilable, as each was convinced that adherents of the other denomination were surely condemned to eternal damnation.”
William Walsh, a curate at Kingstown (Dun Laoughaire), where the Sisters of Mercy had opened a convent in late March 1835 (briefly withdrawing between November 1838 and November 1840 as a result of a dispute over payment for renovations at the school), was concerned about the actions of local Protestants who were attempting to convert Catholic children, with some success. He wrote to Rev John Hamilton on February 19, 1839, as follows: “During the sermon I read the Parents a lecture which I trust they will never forget. But alas! Of what avail is all this, if we are to have no Female School or no means to counteract the insidious, persevering efforts of the wealthy Bigots who swarm in this place, whom no child can escape, and whom no labour nor expense will deter from their proselytizing career.” (Sullivan, 2004, p. 188)
Prunty, J. (1998) Dublin Slums 1800-1925: A Study in Urban Geography Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
Sullivan, M. C. [Ed] (2004) The Correspondence of Catherine McAuley 1818-1841 Dublin: Four Courts Press.