Who was Catherine McAuley?

By Kavanagh staff | Posted: Tuesday February 14, 2017

The Mercy Sisters are also an integral part of the way in which Kavanagh students are encouraged to live their lives.

Catherine McAuley was born near Dublin, Ireland, in September 1778 to a wealthy Catholic family. Though her father died in 1783 when Catherine was just five years old and fifteen years later her mother died in 1798, leaving her an orphan. She was sent to live in the home of relatives who were non-Catholic and had little sympathy for her religious practices. But, In 1803 Catherine was invited to live in the home of William and Catherine Callaghan as a companion to Mrs Callaghan. The Callaghans were childless and upon Mr Callaghan's death in 1822, Catherine inherited their fortune: about £25,000, their estate, "furniture and plate."

In 1824, Catherine used her inheritance to lease property on Baggot Street, a fashionable neighbourhood in Dublin, to build a large house for religious, educational and social services for women and children. Other women were attracted to Catherine’s work and began to join her.

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. Two years later the Chapel was dedicated and although it was not her original intention, Catherine accepted the advice of her peers and began the founding of a new religious congregation of women dedicated to service to the poor.

On Dec. 12, 1831, Catherine and two others pronounced vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and to persevere until death in "the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy." Thus the new community was founded.

Catherine lived only ten years as a Sister of Mercy but in that time she established nine additional foundations in Ireland and England and two branch houses in Dublin. When she died in 1841 there were 150 Sisters of Mercy.

We remember Venerable Catherine McAuley particularly as the founder of the Sisters of Mercy because they are one of the founding orders of our school.

The day after the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Dunedin, in 1897, they began St Philomena’s School.