Sister M. Joanna Regan, R.S.M.. Tender. Courage event, she developed that tender, courageous response that brought forth from the heiress the House of

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TENDER COURAGEA Brief Sketchof the First Sister of MercybySister M. Joanna Regan, R.S.M.Published by Gwynedd-Mercy Collegeto commemoratethe 200th Anniversary of the birth ofCatherine Elizabeth McAuleyFoundress of the Sisters of MercyGwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania1978

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TENDER COURAGEIt began almost 200 years ago.One small child’s heart stirred with pity for those who werepoor.These stirrings grew strong and deep. Mercy, misericordiaŒbringing one’s heart to misery, to wretchednessŒshaped the core ofthe developing child into the woman of compassion, CatherineElizabeth McAuley, an heiress who gave all her wealth to the poor,and a woman of faith who gave a new religious family to theChurch.Living within intersecting circles of suffering, Catherine learnedearly to enclose within her own heart the sufferings of others andto feel the pain in others as her own pain. Year by year, event byevent, she developed that tender, courageous response thatbrought forth from the heiress the House of Mercy, and from thewoman of faith the Sisters of Mercy.Land of SorrowsIreland in the late 18th and early 19th Century was a land mademiserable. Its poor were wretchedly poor; its sick, helplessly sick; itsignorant, hopelessly ignorant. The instrument which kept the majority ofthe population so impoverished was the Penal Code. This punishment law,enforced through various Parliamentary Acts, applied since the 17thcentury against those who would not accept the English sovereign as Headof the Church. Catholics who resisted such acceptance had their landsconfiscated, education denied, worship forbidden, and religious institutionsdemolished.Those permitted to remain on confiscated lands had to pay rent to thenew and often absent landlord. To prevent a future build-up of wealth orstrength by the owner-turned-tenant, each had to divide his leasedholdings among his children. Each succeeding generation received smallerand smaller parcels until there was left only the barest minimum to sustainlife. Those put off their lands were left to wander into the slums of thecities or off to the barren areas of the west where the land produces littlebut rock, furze, and bog.Probably in no other country under English rule at that time were thepoor so blatantly and systematically kept impoverished by this enforcedland surrender with its rack rents and absolute landlord system, as well asby disenfranchisement, deculturation, and the presumption of both lawand genteel society that these Irish Catholics had brought on themselvestheir own wretchedness by stubbornly remaining intransigent,unproductive, unruly, unkempt, and unwilling to better themselves.The worst evils of an oppressive government were kept alive byardent, religion-based political prejudices. On the Protestant side therewas a strong antagonism against Catholic affiliation with the Pope, withRome, and with the Catholic Stuarts. Catholics were thought to be traitorsas well as a scandalous sect. Irish Catholics, in their turn, had a horror ofeverything Protestant coupled with a thorough-going hatred of Englandunder whose rule they were suffering.Moderate men and woman on both sides had begun to look forpeaceful and just solutions to the social, political, and economic problemsof Ireland. They were long thwarted, however, by the blazing hostilitythat sears both sides of the struggle-hostility that continues even to thisday in northern Ireland.The Repeal of the Penal Laws was begun in 1798 when CatherineMcAuley was nearing 20. This set in motion the slow, steady, relentlessprogress toward an Ireland whose native people were free to own land,to pursue education, to build schools and churches, and to direct both localand national affairs.Without the dedication of gifted men and women, tasks of rebuildinga life-style reflective of human dignity and restoring knowledge lost to thegreater multitudes would have been impossible. Few provided effortsmore lasting, more on-going than Catherine Elizabeth McAuley.Land of PromiseNot all Irish Catholics were abjectly poor. Gleaming white cottageshousing sturdy farmers and their families dotted the entire land. In spite ofhardship and handicaps suffered for their faith, these industrious and hardworking families forced the land to yield a proud living.In urban areas, as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, thebuilding of cities kept pace, bringing along a concurrent relaxation of thePenal Code. Enterprising builders, merchants, craftsmen, distillers began toamass modest fortunes regardless of religious affiliations. James McAuley,Catherine’s father, seems to have been one of these. His steady rise ischronicled in leases signed from 1756 unti11783. On the first, he signedhimself, carpenter. Later, he signed builder, then grazier (cattle grower),and finally, James McAuley, Gent. This last indicates a person of wealthand property whose land and investments work for him.This new group of wealthy Catholics tended to become Anglo-lrish intheir social customs, attitudes, and sympathies. If Catherine had a fatherother than James McAuley, she might have lived a graceful life in politesociety, insulated from the sufferings of Ireland’s poor and fed on false

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assumptions concerning them.Obligations of WealthBorn to comfortably wealthy parents in an age of sharp divisionbetween the have’s and the have not’s, Catherine learned from her fathera different pattern in dealing with the poor from that which prevailed inupper class society. It was a recognized Christian duty to give alms to theneedy. It was a lady’s duty to distribute these alms. It was not, however, apractice to show understanding or compassion, but rather to treat the dutyof charity as a condescension, the bestowing of a reward on thosedeemed worthy.The manner in which James McAuley gathered the waifs and strays tohis home at Stormanstown House on Sundays and holidays enteredCatherine’s heart and life experience before she was five. She observedthe good manners extended to the least of the children her father taughtand the concern with which he looked after their pressing needs. Sheevidently absorbed the effect kind treatment had on these children andalso took in the importance her father attached to his Catholic heritageand to the children’s.Sharing her father with these children was the beginning of her givingto the poor according to their needs rather than according to her ownconvenience. Others of the household seemed to find the Sunday intrusionsan embarrassment.Pain of LossThe mystery of suffering entered the life of the child Catherine at thedeath of her father in 1783 when she was hardly five. The McAuleycircumstances began to decrease steadily. Stormanstown House, the homeof so many memories of her beloved father, was sold and the familymoved to smaller quarters on Mary Street. From here, Catherineprobably made her First Communion and Confirmation at St. Paul’sChurch. While no record exists of her having received these Sacraments,she often claimed the grace of Confirmation sustained her throughout herpersonal struggle for integrity of faith. An observant child, Catherinerecognized that while she had been schooled in every refined and usefulaccomplishment, her religious education was quite inadequate. Sheobserved that none of the relatives and friends who frequented the househad the courageous, firm, gentlemanly stance toward Catholicism that herfather had had. She realized too that her mother, a young widowdescribed as an independent thinker, leaned more toward the Protestantresponse to life than to the Catholic.Whatever tensions or perplexities this set up in the teen-ageCatherine, she was most attentive to her lovely mother as much to assuageher grief at the loss of her husband and protector as to win her approval.Although very successful at forming perfect and graceful manners in herthree children, Catherine, Mary, and James, Elinor Conway McAuley wasvery unsuccessful in her attempt to manage her husband’s estate.Pre-Victorian ladies, as well as their successors, were not educated tomanage affairs of finance. Because each new need was met by sellingoff a parcel of the estate, at Elinor’s death there was little to leave herthree children.The death of Elinor McAuley was made particularly painful by herremorse and fear of dying which teen-age Catherine would willinglyhave taken away. Poorly instructed as she was, however, she hardly knewwhat to do or to say. This experience proved so shaping an event thatyears later when Sister Catherine McAuley established the Sisters ofMercy, she saw it as an important duty to visit the sick poor in their homesand to assist the dying to die at peace with God and man. One of herfirst collection of prayers hand-copied from the few available printedPrayer Books of the day were prayers to be said at the bedside of thesick and the dying.Catholic-Protestant TensionAfter Elinor McAuley™s death, Mary and James went to live withcousins of their mother, the Armstrongs, who were vigorously Protestant.Catherine chose to live with her mother™s brother, Dr. Owen Conway,whose family were practicing Catholics. Here she found a most congenialatmosphere. Along with her social duties, she visited the poor, tended thesick, and taught children during afternoon outings in Dublin with hercousins and their friends. But this respite was short-lived. When Dr.Conway™s fortunes reversed drastically, Catherine had first-handopportunities to experience hunger, cold, and other privations of the poor.She discovered that in spite of her training as a refined and delicatelady, she could endure a great deal of hardship. Some of her ability nodoubt sprang from this very training. To this Spartan-Iike background,however, she had added the hidden and often unrecognized factor,spiritual strength harvested from private prayer, reflection, and habitualacts of loving sacrifice for others. She learned so well to ignore her owndiscomfort in favor of another’s that when the Armstrongs offered her ahome, she accepted in order to reduce the burden on the Conways.In the Armstrong household Catherine was surrounded by Protestantsociety hostile to Catholicism. No morally upright and staunch Christian ofthe19th Century could be indifferent to the religion practiced by themembers of his household. William Armstrong was aggressive in his

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attacks on the Roman Catholic Church and determined to win Catherineaway from the religion associated with servants and ignorant peasants.Often hearing Catholic teachings held up to scorn and the practices of thefaithful ridiculed, Catherine felt the burden of her own ignorance ofreligious truth beyond all but an elementary level.Caught in the tension of wanting to do what would promote harmonywithin the home, yet finding herself strangely unable to yield the religionof her father in which she had been baptized and confirmed, Catherinebecame a student of Protestant and Catholic teachings. She consequentlybegan to realize how much of what she had heard in attack and defensesprang from prejudice and lack of knowledge. For herself, her studiesstrengthened her Catholic faith, resolved her doubts, and enabled her togive her whole being to it with great peace.Catherine both loved and admired her relatives and Protestantfriends. She would have chosen to be one in sentiment and practice withthem if it were possible. Finding that impossible, her exquisite courtesyforbade her to offend by any outward or visible practice of faith thosewho had given her a home but forbidden Catholic practice within it.To remain resolute under attack without aggressiveness, to enduredeep hurt without bitterness, to continue to hold in affection those whoopposed and criticized what she so loved, pointed to rich gifts of theSpirit at work in her understanding love and tender courage.Hidden LifeAfter almost five years at the Conways and Armstrongs, Catherinewas offered in 1803 still another home with distant cousins of her mother,the Callahans, returned from a 20 year sojourn in India. Charmed by hergrace and abilities, this childless couple, well past the stage to attempt tobring up a small child asked the self-possessed young woman to be adaughter to them. Gradually they gave over to her the management oftheir Coolock home and estates, enabling her to do much good for thepoor in their name.One area these staunch Quakers would not permit to Catherineduring the 20 years she lived with them was the presence in the home ofany visible sign of Catholicism. She had trained herself early to see thereflection of God’s presence in nature and in artifacts. It was not difficultfor her to make the cross beams of the door the cross before which sheprayed, nor to find her prayer community “below stairs” with the servants.The depth, intensity, and single-heartedness of this prayer so dearlybought shaped and sustained her.During these years, Catherine met learned and holy priests whodirected her reading of the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and thewritings of many saints. Mrs. Callahan whose health had failed oftenrequired nursing care which Catherine lavished upon her, caring for herand comforting her in every way. For long hidden years, the sacredreadings read as Mrs. Callahan lay sleeping or resting penetrated themind and heart of Catherine McAuley. She read these books not out of asense of duty, nor to be learned, nor to satisfy curiosity. She read them toseek, a way of life, a way for her to respond to the world in which shewas living and to feed as well the life of prayer she continued to live insecret.Catherine herself had experienced hunger, cold, ridicule, scorn; shehad experienced being homeless, being dependent on the will of thosewho provided for her; she experienced what is called today second-classcitizenship; she had, in fact, as she glided through the drawing rooms,ballrooms, and down the avenues of princely estates experienced whatthe Irish poor experienced so much more desperately.Although she spent whatever free time she possessed in the service ofthe poor and the sick and in instructing the children of Coolock, a call wasgrowing within her to do something more permanent for Ireland’s poor.! ! ! ! !

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Catherine, the woman, prepared by God for the remarkableevents that were to transpire, became in quick succession heiress,builder, foundress, missionary, and heroic daughter of the Church.HeiressWilliam Callahan delighted in the skill with which Catherineadministered his contributions to the poor. As a Christian gentlemen, hetook seriously his responsibility to give 10% of his income to charity.Watching her stretch this charity to provide for as many as possible, heremarked she would do great good with whatever money she had. At hisdeath in 1824 he named Catherine his sole heiress. The estate he left herwould translate in modern inflationary times to approximately$1,000,000.BuilderOf the many experiences she had while administering Coolock House,the most difficult were those when she was asked for help and could notgive it. One experience in particular bred in her a determination to findsome means to respond to needs without bureaucratic red tape. The crisissituation that haunted her involved a young domestic servant in moraldanger at her place of employment. She needed a place to “live out”.The girl had her pride and did not seek to be taken in out of charity. Shewanted a proper place to live and she asked Miss McAuley to help her tofind it.Catherine went immediately to those institutions that house youngwomen. She was put off until the committee should meet to examine therequest. Her pleas about the urgency involved had no effect. Catherineattended the meeting of the committee to no avail.The girl was victimized.When Catherine McAuley found herself an heiress, she made tworesolutions. She determined that her inheritance would be used for therelief and instruction of the poor and that she would build a refuge fordistressed women of good character.The resultant House of Mercy, a huge building on the corner offashionable Baggot and Herbert Streets, Dublin, opened formallySeptember 24, 1827, Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. The placement of herhouse where the poor would be visible to the rich and where youngwomen could find employment nearby was deliberate. At the House ofMercy, young hopefuls were trained in needlework, laundry, and otherdomestic services. Careful training improved job possibilities andprovided a ladder upwards. Instruction in faith and its practice andtraining in good manners were designed to lay a solid foundation for theday they would preside over hearths of their own.Convinced that the careful education of women contributed toincalculable good not only to them, but also to society, Catherine fostereda fine sense of individual dignity, attentive care to person andsurroundings, and sound devotional practices as her paramount aim. Sheknew what her society had to say of the Irish poor. In her mission ofservice, she wanted to provide means for unprotected girls and women todevelop beyond that criticism.Lay ApostleDetermined to provide education to the children of the poor ofDublin, Catherine acquainted herself with current techniques andprocedures at schools in France and Ireland. When she presented herselfat the prestigious Kildare School, she found a vigorous and thinlydisguised proselytizing at work. To offset this, she provided for theinclusion of a large schoolroom in building a House of Mercy where, alongwith up-to-date schooling, the Catholic faith would be taught andpracticed.She turned her attention also to the patients of Sir Patrick Dunn’sHospital. In many instances, confinement in early 19th Century hospitalswas a last resort. Patients were sent when they were expected to die.Catherine who had nursed so many through their last illness knew firsthand the fears that beset the sick and dying. She wanted to comfort andassist hospitalized Catholics whose spiritual needs were so neglected atthat most crucial time, especially as a Catholic priest was rarely grantedentrance. To gain permission of Protestant officialdom, she arrived in hercarriage accompanied by other ladies of fashion. She sought visitingprivileges on a regular basis. Here as at Kildare Schools, it was assumedthat she and her companions were Protestants doing a charitable duty.Permission was readily granted. Later these visitors from the House ofMercy became the first Catholic religious to minister there. When cholerastruck Dublin in 1832, Catherine and her sisters nursed the sick day andnight. Sir Patrick Dunn’s hospital had the lowest death rate of theepidemic. He attributed much of this success to the unflagging care of theSisters. (This pattern of response brought Sisters of Mercy to the fieldhospitals of Crimea in Europe and those of the Civil and Spanish AmericanWars in the United States.)Modern ExecutiveCatherine was directing the affairs of three households when sheinitiated the school, the visitation of the sick, and the house of refugewhich fast became a training school and an employment agency. Still

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Catherine to dismiss the Archbishop’s suggestion, no matter howuncongenial she found it. And because her understanding of Catholicreligious life was influenced by the environment in which she had spentalmost forty years, she found it very uncongenial.When she spoke of this development to her associates, some weredelighted, some were willing, and some volunteers ceased theirassociation. Three set out on September 8, 1830 for the PresentationConvent at George’s Hill, Dublin, to be schooled in religious communallife: Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle, and Elizabeth Harley.NoviceCatherine had two different major superiors during her stay, eachwith a different attitude to the Dublin heiress preparing to establish herown Order. The first treated her as an older, mature woman, giving herthe specific training required for a major religious superior. The secondfelt that Catherine should experience what every novice experiences. Shesought to exercise her humility, patience, and charity. Sister Catherine,who had served many severe novitiates during her lifetime, met each testwith that refinement of soul which only those possess who yield entirely toGod.For Catherine, the novitiate was a time of recollection, interior quiet,and deep prayer. Catherine acknowledged a deeper realization of Whohad been calling her, moving her, and giving her rich blessings todispense. She remarked later, “I feel a cog in some great wheel,” an aptimage in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. A sense ofstewardship, not new to her, living as she did with relatives andbenefactors, put down deeper roots as she prepared herself forconsecrated stewardship. Again, she determined wholeheartedly to puther every resource at the disposal of God and His poor.The novitiate was not, however, unalloyed joy. She was troubled byreports of sickness at Baggot Street. During her absence things had beendeteriorating due to excess fervor. More than a few of the little band hadinjured their health in long fasts, prolonged prayers, and all night vigilsadded on to long hours of work. Catherine’s practical zeal was sorelyneeded.First Sister of MercyThe ceremony that marks the official beginning of the Sisters of Mercywas the profession held December 12, 1831 at Presentation Convent,George’s Hill, Dublin. As soon as the ceremony ended, the three hurriedacross town to Baggot Street. Rejoicing at their return had brief existence.Catherine was not home long before two Sisters were buried in the vaultsof the Carmelite Fathers in Clarendon Street, with Sister Elizabeth Harleysoon to follow. Death stalked the little community taking much lovedSisters, including her two nieces, Mary Teresa and Catherine Macauley,who had joined in her enterprise.Archbishop Murray appointed Catherine first Superior of the Sistersof Mercy and confirmed her in office in the name of the Church. Her firstduty was to receive her associates and to direct their novitiate. Firstamong the seven received was Frances Warde, Catherine’s close friendand confidant who was to become the American foundress.Certain facets of her new life were uncongenial to her. She did notlike a title of distinction; she did not want sisters to stand in deference toher when she entered a room; she did not want any difference to existbetween choir (one with the duty to recite the Office in community) andlay sister (one with domestic and extern duties). Constant pressureconcerning the status in the Church of the “walking sisters” promoted thegradual, though reluctant, taking on of practices similar to other Orders ofthe day. That the works of Mercy be done and that they be done bydeeply religious women was Catherine McAuley’s chief concern. Whatcontributed to that, she would do or permit. Whatever hampered theseobjectives, she would not allow.The first Rule of the new congregation consisted of a single chapteron union and charity. Members of the fledgling Institute cherished,supported, encouraged, forgave, and loved one another “withoutcontention or reserve.”1 At the same time, there were misunderstandings,hostile questions, antagonism, and rejections to be endured. The new styleof religious women introduced to the Church in Dublin, walked the streetson errands of mercy without relinquishing prayer, silence, meditation, andrecitation of the Office. Many did not know what to make of this. So muchspeculation existed on their Church status and degree of respectabilitythat Catherine, always willing to honor the sensibilities of others, urgedArchbishop Murray to obtain a written approval from Rome on theirefforts. She would not permit these sensibilities, however, to curtailneeded works. Approval was granted March 24, 1835. The Rule wasconfirmed in an incredibly short time on June 6, 1841.New candidates arrived at Baggot Street regularly. Highly giftedand much needed Sisters lived only a short time but the works went on.Asked to tell the story of her Institute, Catherine records:We now have gone beyond 100 in number and the desireto join seems to increase rather than decreasethere hasbeen a most marked Providential Guidance which the wantof prudence, vigilance, or judgment has not impeded, and

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it is here that we can see most clearly the designs of God. Icould mark circumstances calculated to defeat it at once,but nothing howsoever injurious in itself has done anyinjury.This is alI I can say.The loss of property has been supplied, the death of themost valuable Sister passed away as of no consequence.The alarm that was spread by such repeated deaths did notprevent others crowding in. In short, it evidently was to goon and surmount all obstacles, many of which were greatindeedOne thing is remarkable, that no breach of Charity everoccurred amongst us. The Sun never, I believe, went downon our anger. This is our only boast, otherwise we havebeen deficient enough.2The extraordinary success of the venture from Baggot Street broughtpetitions from all areas of Ireland as well as England to found Conventsof the Sisters of Mercy. Knowing the terrible sufferings of the poor, shefound it impossible to deny these requests regardless of cost. Negotiatingnew foundations, she sought to connect well-disposed wealthy Catholicswith the needs of the poor in their areas. She made few demands foreach establishment other than to insure the poor would be served andreligious life protected. The work was endless and difficult. Without acommunity of support, it could not go on. Her concern was that those whoperformed these works have space and time with God and each other todevelop and renew those virtues absolutely necessary for the monumentaltask before them. Whenever she was certain that there were funds tostart them off, adequate housing, and a secluded place for prayer in thepublic Church, she immediately promised a foundation. Dividing herforces, she continually deprived herself of close friends and experiencedreligious.Constantly depleting Baggot Street, Catherine gave to newbeginnings at least one Sister, lending some others until candidates fromthe locality should arrive. She tried to hold a Public Profession to whichboth the rich and the poor were invited. Born before the media explosion,she nevertheless knew the value of “getting the message out.” A goodpreacher could explain the meaning and purpose of the newcongregation in such a way as to call forth generous response. Herstrategy was to arouse compassion in order to channel the wealth of alocality towards its poor. She believed God-given blessings wereintended to bless the less fortunate. She encouraged others to the sameview. From families of wealth whose daughters sought admission, sherequired a dowry in keeping with their means.In those days, Sisters entirely supported whatever works they did. Thebuilding of schools, houses of mercy, orphanages, the distribution of food,clothing, medicines had to come from their own resources. Dowries,endowments from benefactors, monies raised at bazaars and lotteriesenabled the works of Mercy to spread over Ireland and England duringCatherine’s short ten years as a Sister of Mercy. Within a few years afterher death, convents began in Newfoundland, United States, Australia, andNew Zealand.MissionaryCatherine utilized all modes of transportation as she embarked on herfoundation travels. Post chaise, railway car, fly boat, packet, and steamercarried her to Tullamore, Charleville, Carlow, Limerick, Galway, and Birrwithin Ireland and to Bermondsey and Birmingham in England. She wasnegotiating foundations for Liverpool and Newfoundland during theweakness of her last illness.In each foundation visitation of the poor began at once. Catherineurged her Sisters to adapt to local circumstances. Her own richexperiences permitted her to be an evangelist in Charlesville where oneancient cooed, “Ah, it was the Lord Himself that drove you in amongstus!”3 a pioneer in Carlow where no one had thought to provide furniturefor the convent and where a pension (tuition) school was introduced forthe new middle class4; a diplomat in Cork, where the bishop kept closewatch on admissions; an incorporator and a visionary in Limerick, whereshe received two Poor Clare nuns whose convent had failed and whereshe discovered the National School (public) under Catholic auspices andurged this arrangement on all her convents; an evangelist in Birr where aschism had depleted the parish; as well as home vistor in Tullamore andGalway.The first English novices sent over to Ireland to be prepared to makea foundation in the Bermondsey section of London were trained in Cork.After their profession, Catherine took them on a tour of the otherfoundations in Ireland to learn the various works and the different waysthey were being carried out. The Reception shortly after their return toEngland of feathered and diamonded Lady Barbara Ayre with manymembers of the Court of St. James in attendance was probably the mostsplendid ever held by the Sisters of Mercy. Catherine commented, “The

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poor will soon have the feathers and diamonds.”5The Foundress from Baggot Street had the liberty of spirit not to likethe Convent designed by the famous architect, Pugjn. “The convent is notmore than half built, it is quite in the old monastic style, very heavy. Mr.Pugin the architect was determined we would not look out of the windows,they are up to the ceiling. I could not touch the glass without standing on achair. I do not admire his taste, though so celebrated.”6 Its ethereal Gothicwas lost on her who wanted Sisters to see beyond the convent to theneeds of the world.Architect also for the second Convent of Mercy in Birmingham,England, Pugin accommodated some of Catherine’s complaints. Hebrought the windows to eye level and provided more places for light toenter. (Bermondsey Convent was destroyed in World War II.Birmingham’s survived and is now registered as a National HistoricBuilding.)Major SuperiorWhen new foundations were made, Catherine gaveon-the-job-training to her new superiors. She remained at least one monthwith them, longer if necessary. She measured this time with her much lovedand efficacious Thirty Days Prayer. For Sister Elizabeth Moore in Limerick,she wrote a description in verse of the role of a good superior. Thisdescription travelled to almost every convent of the Sisters of Mercy in theworld.Don’t let crosses vex or tease;Try to meet all with peace and ease.Notice the faults of everydayBut often in a playful wayAnd when you seriously complain,Let it be known to give you pain.Attend to one thing at a timeYou’ve 15 hours from 6 to 9Be mild and sweet in all your waysNow and again bestow some praiseAvoid all solemn declaration,All serious, close investigationTurn what you can into a jestAnd with a few words dismiss the restKeep patience ever at your sideYou’ll want it for a constant guideShow fond affection every dayAnd, above all devoutly prayThat God may bless the charge He’s givenAnd make of you their guide to Heaven.The parting advice of your ever affectionate M.C.McA7Catherine modeled whatever she suggested or required. Sherefrained from making decisions for others, choosing rather to point outmatters to be considered. Having created local foundresses rather thansuperiors of branch houses dependent on Baggot Street indicatesCatherine’s search for the best method to help the poor. She did not wantthe limitations of one locality to hamper the work of another area.The trend of the day was toward centralization, yet Catherinedecentralized.The trend of the day was toward cloistered settings for religiouswomen, requiring students and others who needed their services to cometo the religious institute. Catherine’s Sisters of Mercy would go out fromthat setting to wherever they were needed.There is no evidence that Catherine saw herself as a woman whodared to be different. Her gaze was so fixed on what needed to bedone she hardly noticed that she refused to be confined by convention orcustom. The only confinement Catherine accepted willingly was theconfinement imposed by the Will of God, by the voice of God within her.She did not so much challenge the social mores of Church and world butrather adopted the mores of the Gospel message.Catherine did not take philosophical or theoretical stancesŒnor wasshe opposed to them. But she felt life. She felt the joy of it and shedanced it. Across the top of a letter describing the hardships of the Birrfoundation, she wrote, “Dance every evening.”8 She felt the pain of lifeand cried for it. She entered others joys and added to them. She solacedpain and took it on herself. That she accomplished, under the grace ofGod, what was often pronounced not able to be done was due to thesingle-hearted unassuming way she took on the impossible.Heroic Daughter of the ChurchThe delineation of Catherine McAuley’s earlier years has to dependupon the recollection and memoirs of her early associates. But her life asfoundress of the Sisters of Mercy breathes forth from her own pen. Morethan two hundred extant letters pulsate with the ardor of a vibrantwoman who called forth dynamic response.

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