Mr Dominic Dowling's talk to the Dublin Provincial Congress of St. Joseph's Young Priests Society: Catherine McAuley
Reflecting on Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy’ my thoughts turned to the Sisters of Mercy here and in particular to their founder the Venerable Catherine Mc Auley, so I did some research into her life.
Catherine McAuley, who was born in 1778 in Stormanstown Co Dublin out past Glasnevin, never intended to found a religious congregation. In her own words ‘all I wanted was to help the poor’.
Her father, a very charitable man, died when she was 5 and his death led to a period of mismanagement of his affairs, shortage of money and eventually total poverty. This in turn lead to Catherine and her sister and brother being placed with relatives. Having lived for a time with her uncle Owen Conway and then for a time with a Protestant family the Armstrongs. Catherine moved in 1809 to Coolock House a 22 acre estate of William and Catherine Callaghan an elderly and wealthy Protestant and Quaker couple as household manager and companion to Mrs Callaghan. Catherine never dreamed that when Mrs Callaghan died ten years later and when William Callaghan died three years after that, she would become the sole owner of their estate and much of their savings. It was left to her unconditionally.
In 1824, her inheritance now settled, Catherine implemented a longstanding desire: she built a large house in Dublin on Baggot Street, as a school for poor girls and a shelter for homeless servant girls and women. Catherine hoped that she would be helped by friends and associates in running this ‘House of Mercy’ in Baggot Street which had school rooms, workrooms and dormitories. But in August 1827, a month before the House of Mercy was opened, her sister Mary died of TB, leaving her husband, Dr William Macauley, a surgeon, and five young children, ages six to sixteen. A new wave of responsibilities and losses therefore began to affect Catherine's life and when Dr Macauley died Catherine became the children’s legal guardian.
Despite this she moved in to Baggot Street in the following year – 1828. She took the girls with her and boarded the boys in Carlow College. To Catherine, the House of Mercy was not a convent and her lay helpers living there were not sisters, even though they shared life, work and prayer together and dressed simply in a kind of uniform.
But what this group of single women was doing raised such opposition (since they wore a common dress but were not nuns) that the Archbishop of Dublin eventually became involved. He asked that the work in its present form be finished – either that or that a Religious Congregation with its rules and structures become involved. And so it was, that Catherine and two of her companions were trained in George’s Hill Presentation Convent and Professed there. Catherine’s reaction to the new Sisters of Mercy, which got the Archbishop’s approval, was ‘If the Order is MY work, the sooner it falls to the ground the better. If it is GOD’S work, it needs no one’.
Thus came into being the largest Congregation ever established by an English-speaking Catholic. Venerable Catherine McAuley died in 1841 and her grave is marked by a memorial chapel in the Baggot Street convent cemetery. Her cause for Beatification is at an advanced stage in Rome.
When I was researching the story of Catherine McAuley and the distinction between Charity and Mercy, I came across some recommendations for Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy addressed to a Sister of Mercy by name Sr Marie Chin, by a Deirdre Mullan, also a Mercy Sister, in the USA.
I would like to share these thoughts of Deirdre Mullen with you, for I suggest we all could learn from what she had to say. Her whole point can be summed up in a few words: It is not enough to be charitable. It is not enough to be compassionate. You must Act.
- Every day, she says, take time to be kind.
- Never take people for granted.
- Pay attention to those who are your friends
- Talk to people instead of sending emails, facebooking or twittering
- Look out for those on the road of life who are broken.
- In the midst of suffering there is compassion, mercy and love.
- Remember that our accomplishments are never our own.
- Those who have supported us have made sacrifices.
- Thank our family, parents, grandparents, relatives and teachers.
- Pray every day. It allows us to see blessings all around us.
- So, inform yourself of what is going on in the world.
- Everything is connected because of technology and globalisation.
- What is done at local level, affects the whole.
- Happiness comes from service, working for and with others.
- You don’t know what another person suffers, so err on the side of kindness.
- Cultivate genuine delight in the good fortune of others.
- If the world needs mercy, it also needs gratitude.
- Be grateful for all you have.
- Be brave and to bring integrity to bear on everything we do
- Remember that Character is who you are, even when nobody is looking.
- Your integrity is your greatest gift to yourself
- Reach out and touch lives
- Always show kindness and pass it on
- Don’t abandon those who are down on their luck
- Emulate the life of Jesus Christ so evident in both Catherine and Pope Francis.
Be aware, she says, of the importance of human kindness. It is everywhere.
Quoting Catherine McAuley, she says: ‘Never speak with contempt of
any nation, profession or class of people’.
Here’s what you must always remember, she says;
As regards ourselves, we are asked to:
And finally she says once again:
As Deirdre Mullen has written to Sr Marie Chin: It is not enough to be charitable. It is not enough to be compassionate. We must Act.
And, friends, there is nothing more I can add to That!