The Walking Nuns
On September 24, 1827, the Feast of our Lady of Mercy, the first residents
came to live in the house they called the House of Mercy in honour of the day and two years later the Chapel was dedicated. Between late 1829 and 1830, after prayerful deliberation and consultation, Catherine and her associates agreed to found a new religious congregation. Though this was not her original intention, Catherine began the founding of this new religious congregation of women dedicated to service to the poor.
Catherine and two of her associates entered the Convent of the Presentation Sisters in Dublin on Sept. 8, 1830, to begin formal preparation for founding the Sisters of Mercy. Fifteen months later the trio pronounced vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and to persevere until death in “the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy.” The new community was founded on December 12, 1831.
Catherine’s concept of a Religious Institute included ministry not typical of that time. Called to serve Christ as the complex social needs demanded, and encouraged by the Archbishop, Catherine and her companions took as their special works the instruction of poor girls, visitation of the sick and the protection of distressed women of good character.
Without the confines of strict enclosure, the “walking nuns”, as they were called, went out with their baskets, and became part of many dioceses, inspiring local young women to see and meet local needs, enabling the new order to spread rapidly. These Sisters of Mercy felt called by God to a life of service to nurse the sick poor as walking nuns which was central to their charism. This same charism fuelled the Sisters of Mercy legacy of servant leadership wherever they travelled to bestow the spirit of Mercy.
Catherine lived only ten years as a Sister of Mercy but in that time she established nine additional autonomous foundations in Ireland and England, and two branch houses near Dublin. When she died in 1841 there were 150 Sisters of Mercy. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters left Ireland at the invitation of bishops in Newfoundland, New Zealand, the United States, Argentina and Australia.
What is it in Catherine McAuley that continues to inspire you?