Feast Day: November 11 (Ireland)
Venerated: April 9, 1990
Catherine Elizabeth McAuley was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1778. From the time she was a young child, Catherine saw her parents living their Catholic faith through service to the poor. After her parents died, Catherine lived with Protestant relatives who wanted her to become a member of their church. Catherine remained true to the Catholic faith.
When Catherine was 25, she was invited to be a live-in companion to a wealthy retired couple. Her faith and loving care for them and the needy people in the neighborhood was a powerful example for them, and they both became Catholic before they died. They left their fortune to Catherine.
This inheritance gave Catherine the money she needed to establish a house to serve people in need. Catherine purchased property and a large house was built. It was called the “House of Mercy” and opened in 1827. It included a church, school, a work area for training the residents for jobs, and dormitories for the poor and any women who wished to join Catherine in her ministry.
Catherine did not wish to form a religious order. Nuns in Ireland in those days spent most of their time cloistered away from the people Catherine was determined to serve. Catherine knew that to be a real help to the poor and needy, she needed to be among them so that she could see the realities of the struggles they faced on a daily basis.
The Archbishop of Dublin convinced Catherine that becoming a religious order would help her to serve more people. Catherine agreed, and she and two friends began training to become nuns. When they took their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they were allowed to include a vow of service to the poor, sick, and uneducated. Catherine’s order, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, was born in 1831. The nuns wore plain clothing and were known in Ireland as the “walking nuns” because they spent so much time in the community helping people.
Catherine died in 1841. Today there are more than 12,000 Sisters of Mercy worldwide. They run 200 health care facilities, 19 colleges, 58 schools and provide many other services that help people of every age.
Pope John Paul II declared Sister Catherine McAuley “Venerable” in 1990. This is the first step on the path to sainthood. Catherine always said that “proof of love is deed.” Like Catherine McAuley, we can let our kind and caring deeds be the proof of our love for Jesus and others.
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