September 28, 2009

Pilgrimage to Baggot Street


House of Mercy - old

When the Institute leadership team and Community team members approach the red front door at 64A Lower Baggot Street on Wednesday, September 30th many stories will surely come to mind. Just 182 years and seven days earlier, September 24, 1827, Catherine McAuley stepped from her carriage before that very door with two young women, her first companions.

Representation of Catherine after 1841.There is no photograph of Catherine and all paintings are posthumous.

She arrived to officially open the House of Mercy, a dream she had nourished since coming into her inheritance from the Callaghans. In just a few days, she would welcome the first pupils for her school and register the first two servant girls who would find a home there. Catherine would not live there permanently until early 1829 when she came with her niece, Teresa Byrn, age seven, but Anna Maria Doyle and Catherine Byrn would move in that day in 1827 to begin the works of mercy. Though after 1828 Catherine would continue to live occasionally at the home of her recently deceased sister, Mary, on Military Road and at Coolock House until it was sold in September, 1828, she would make daily trips to Baggot Street.

front entrance - old

Perhaps the sisters will recall the story of Anna Maria Doyle passing this house, still under construction in 1827 and wondering what it might become. Catherine had leased the property at the corner of Baggot and Herbert Streets from the Earl of Pembroke at an annual rent of £60 and had begun to build the House of Mercy at a cost of about £4,000. She imagined a large house suitable for various kinds of religious, educational and social services for poor women and children. It was not an easy negotiation; the Protestants in the neighborhood were much opposed to it. They supposed that an establishment for the relief of the poor would diminish the value of their properties. It was all very deliberate on Catherine’s part, however; she wanted the rich to see the poor, to connect them in some way knowing they all had something to learn from each other.

Mercy International Centre today

Many sisters arriving today at Mercy International Centre, as it has been known since 1994, have visited here before and bring their own memories of other times spent in Catherine’s House as visitors, volunteers and team members. They will relive that unique experience of walking in her footsteps in the coming days and feeling the spirit that permeates this place. Still devoted to the care of those in need, Mercy International Center has become a place of pilgrimage, visited by hundreds of sisters, associates, benefactors and friends of Mercy from around the world.

Let us join them in spirit over these next five days, placing ourselves in the pilgrim mode: open to the learnings and insights that come to us in times of vulnerability. As we continue to cross the thresholds of our ministries and homes, let us join in spirit those who pass through the Baggot Street doorways and hallways, climb the stairs and walk in the garden as our foremothers once did. The special graces of this time are not reserved only for those who are in Dublin but for all of us who walk with them in spirit.

Sources: Leaves of the Annals, Volume 9, No. 6, p. 1 Mary C. Sullivan, Catherine McAuley and the Tradition of Mercy, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1995, pp 10-11, 102.

bronze bustThis bronze bust of Catherine, sculpted by Irish artist Michael Burke, is a depiction of Catherine as she may have looked in 1829 when Clare Augustine Moore first met her. She later wrote the description used by Burke for the bust. Family members have stated that the bust looks like relatives. Pictures of Catherine’s relatives that attest to this can be seen at Mercy International Centre.

Questions for reflection and sharing:

  •  What images and words of Catherine McAuley come to your mind today? How do they connect you in your life to her and to Mercys around the world at this time?
  • What special graces will you ask God to send to those at Baggot Street this week? What graces do you ask for yourself, your Mercy family and your ministry?
  • How will you share the experience of these sacred days of celebration and reflection in your little corner of the Mercy world?

Messages to Pat Kenny rsm - Institute Communications

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