By Sister Marilyn Sunderman

Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, was born on September 29, 1778. Catherine built an expansive House of Mercy in heart of Dublin, Ireland, where women and children in need could come for help. At the root of her good works was a deep Christian spirituality that continues to inspire the charism of Sisters of Mercy today. Over the next several weeks, till the anniversary of Catherine’s death on November 11, we’ll be exploring several dimensions of Catherine’s spiritual life. Read Part 1 on hospitality, Part 2 on charity and Part 3 on prayer

A portrait of Catherine McAuley
A portrait of Catherine McAuley

Catherine McAuley was a woman of God who had a passionate and compassionate love of poor persons. Catherine was a visionary who also possessed a remarkable ability to be pragmatically oriented. Optimistic by nature, she was able to throw, as one Sister of Mercy said, a “ray of sunshine on even the darkest hour.” Catherine’s sense of humor enabled her to keep a balanced perspective in life’s most difficult circumstances.

Catherine was demonstrably affectionate. She cared about all the women who companioned her in Mercy and she reached out in love to her relatives. Her loving nature was equally manifest in the compassionate way in which she welcomed poor persons into her life. Catherine spent her energy, time, and financial resources providing food, shelter and clothing and a practical type of education rooted in Christian principles to those whom she and her sisters came to know by name in towns and villages throughout Ireland and in England.  

Catherine accepted her limitations and imperfections. She challenged her sisters and herself to dance with their shadow. She asserted: “Let us not be distressed that others know our faults. We all have our imperfections and shall have them until our death.”

The Irishman Dr. William Blake reflected rightly that his friend, Catherine, was “one selected by heaven for some great work.” The array of ministerial endeavors of her sisterhood in years past and today testifies to the fact that Venerable Catherine is a great gift to the Church and to humankind. In countless ways, the timeless mission of Mercy of this woman of God lives on in countries across the globe.