By Sister Sheila Carney, Vice Postulator for the Cause of Catherine McAuley’s Canonization
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to be at Mercy International Centre on November 11 – the anniversary of the death of Catherine McAuley. While there was a solemnity about the house, there was also a certain amount of life and laughter as sisters came and went all day. Visits to the garden for a moment at Catherine’s grave were followed by cups of tea, so inextricably connected to this day on which she asked that drinking a “good cup of tea” together be the gesture that comforted the community after her death. I tried to avoid those visits and those cups raised in her memory and to engage in a quiet effort to place myself in the house as it was on that day in 1841.
Lurking most of the day in the hallway outside her room, I imagined the activity that would have been centered there. I saw her brother and his family, the local parish priest, her doctor coming to say goodbye. I saw sisters bring trays in the hope that she might eat something – treading carefully lest the floorboards squeak. I heard conversations quietly conducted in doorways – those who had been in the room whispering reports to those who hadn’t. I heard the muffled crying of those trying to conceive of a community, a world, without her presence.
Mostly, I imagined the moment when each sister was asked to come individually to Catherine for a word of farewell. We know of only one of those exchanges. To her cousin, young Sister Camillus Byrne, she said, “Kiss me, my heart, and then go, but don’t be crying. We will see one another again.” What she said to the others, what they said to her, was preserved in the privacy of the hearts to which they were spoken.
What might have Catherine said to me, I wondered. What word of encouragement would she have offered for my life in Mercy? What gesture of affection might have strengthened me for the sorrow of losing her? These are questions that re-appear every year at this time. What would Catherine have to say to me this year to spur me on? In her memory, what words of affection and encouragement might I offer to those around me? What “good cup” can I offer to someone who is sad or confused about what the future holds? For what I learned on that day of lurking in the shadows of her house was that, even in her death, Catherine calls us to merciful action.
Visit Mercy International Association’s website to learn more about Catherine McAuley. Visit the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ website to learn more about how sisters continue to serve people who are poor, sick and need education.
This blog is the first in a series of highlighting Catherine McAuley and Mercy, shared in connection with the anniversary of her death on November 11, 1841. Read the second post on the power of tea and the third post on Mercy hospitality.