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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Sister Catherine McAuley, Founder of the Sisters of Mercy

Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, Irish religious sister who founds the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, dies in Dublin on November 11, 1841. The Sisters of Mercy has always been associated with teaching, especially in Ireland, where the sisters teach Catholics, and at times Protestants, at a time when education is mainly reserved for members of the established Church of Ireland.

McAuley is born on September 29, 1778, at Stormestown House in Dublin to James and Elinor (née Conway) McAuley. Her father dies in 1783 when she is five and her mother dies in 1798. She first goes to live with a maternal uncle, Owen Conway, and later joins her brother James and sister Mary at the home of William Armstrong, a Protestant relative on her mother’s side. In 1803, she becomes the household manager and companion of William and Catherine Callaghan, an elderly, childless, and wealthy Protestant couple and friends of the Armstrongs, at their estate in Coolock, a village northeast of Dublin. For 20 years she gives catechetical instruction to the household servants and the poor village children. Catherine Callaghan, who is raised in the Quaker tradition, dies in 1819. When William Callaghan dies in 1822, McAuley becomes the sole residuary legatee of their estate.

McAuley inherits a considerable fortune and chooses to use it to build a house where she and other compassionate women can take in homeless women and children to provide care and education for them. A location is selected at the junction of Lower Baggot Street and Herbert Street in Dublin, and in June 1824, the cornerstone is laid by the Rev. Dr Blake. As it is being refurbished, she studies current educational methods in preparation for her new endeavour. On the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, September 24, 1827, the new institution for destitute women, orphans, and schools for the poor is opened and McAuley, with two companions, undertake its management.

For three years, McAuley and her companions continue their work as lay women. She never intends to found a community of religious women. Her initial intention is to assemble a lay corps of Catholic social workers. In 1828 Archbishop of Dublin Daniel Murray permits the staff of the institute to assume a distinctive dress and to publicly visit the sick. The uniform adopted is a black dress and cape of the same material reaching to the belt, a white collar and a lace cap and veil – such a costume as is now worn by the postulants of the congregation. In the same year the archbishop desires McAuley to choose some name by which the little community might be known, and she chooses that of “Sisters of Mercy,” having the design of making the works of mercy the distinctive feature of the institute.

McAuley is desirous that the members should combine with the silence and prayer of the Carmelites, with the active labours of a Sister of Charity. The position of the institute is anomalous, its members are not bound by vows nor are they restrained by rules. The clergy and people of the church of the time, however, are not supportive of groups of laywomen working independently of church structures. The main concern is for the stability and continuity of the works of mercy which the women had taken on. Should any of them get married or lose interest, the poor and the orphans whom they are caring for would then be at a loss.

McAuley’s clerical mentor urges her to form a religious institute. Along with two other women, Mary Ann Doyle and Mary Elizabeth Harley, she enters the novitiate of the Presentation Sisters to formally prepare for life as women religious in September 1830. On December 12, 1831 they profess vows and return to the House of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy consider December 12, 1831 as the day of their founding as a religious community. Archbishop Murray assists McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and professes the first three members. He then appoints her Mother Superior.

Between 1831 and 1841 McAuley founds additional Convents in Tullamore, Charleville, Cork, Carlow, Galway, Limerick, Birr, Bermondsey and Birmingham and branch houses in Kingstown and Booterstown. A cholera epidemic hits Dublin in 1832, and she agrees to staff a cholera hospital on Townsend Street.

The rule of the Sisters of Mercy is formally confirmed by Pope Gregory XVI on June 6, 1841. McAuley lives only ten years as a Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Catherine.

McAuley dies of tuberculosis at the age of sixty-three on November 11, 1841 at Baggot Street. She is buried at Baggot Street Cemetery. At the time of her death, there are 100 Sisters of Mercy in ten foundations. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters leave Ireland to establish new foundations on the east and west coasts of the United States, in Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.

Total worldwide membership consists of about 5,500 Sisters of Mercy, 5,000 Associates, and close to half a million partners in ministry. The Mercy International Centre in Dublin is the international “home” of Mercy worldwide and the mercyworld.org website is the virtual home.

In 1978, the cause for the beatification of the Servant of God Catherine McAuley is opened by Pope Paul VI. In 1990, upon recognition of her heroic virtues, Pope John Paul II declares her Venerable.


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Birth of Edel Quinn, Roman Catholic Lay Missionary

Edel Mary Quinn, Roman Catholic lay missionary and Envoy of the Legion of Mary to East Africa, is born in Castlemagner, County Cork, on September 14, 1907.

Quinn is the eldest child of bank official Charles Quinn and Louisa Burke Browne of County Clare. She is a great-granddaughter of William Quinn, a native of County Tyrone who settled in Tuam to build St. Mary’s Cathedral.

During Quinn’s childhood, her father’s career brought the family to various towns in Ireland, including Tralee, County Kerry, where a plaque is unveiled in May 2009 at Bank Of Ireland House in Denny Street commemorating her residence there between 1921 and 1924. She attends the Presentation Convent in the town between 1921-1925.

Quinn feels a call to religious life at a young age. She wishes to join the Poor Clares but is prevented by advanced tuberculosis. After spending eighteen months in a sanatorium, her condition unchanged, she decides to become active in the Legion of Mary, which she joins in Dublin at the age of 20. She gives herself completely to its work in the form of helping the poor in the slums of Dublin.

In 1936, at the age of 29 and dying of tuberculosis, Quinn becomes a Legion of Mary Envoy, a very active missionary to East and Central Africa, departing in December 1936 for Mombasa. She settles in Nairobi having been told by Bishop Heffernan that this is the most convenient base for her work. By the outbreak of World War II, she is working as far off as Dar es Salaam and Mauritius. In 1941, she is admitted to a sanatorium near Johannesburg. Fighting her illness, in seven and a half years she establishes hundreds of Legion branches and councils in today’s Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and Mauritius. John Joseph “J.J.” McCarthy, later Bishop of Zanzibar and Archbishop of Nairobi, writes of her:

“Miss Quinn is an extraordinary individual; courageous, zealous and optimistic. She wanders around in a dilapidated Ford, having for sole companion an African driver. When she returns home she will be qualified to speak about the Missions and Missionaries, having really more experience than any single Missionary I know.”

All this time Quinn’s health is never good, and in 1943 she takes a turn for the worse, dying in Nairobi, Kenya of tuberculosis on May 12, 1944. She is buried there in the Missionaries’ Cemetery.

The cause for her beatification is introduced in 1956. She is declared venerable by Pope John Paul II on December 15, 1994, since when the campaign for her beatification has continued.