The History of Mercy Associates

Associates begin with Catherine Mc Auley, Foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. Her Vision was to alleviate the situation of the poor, sick and ignorant, initially in her own city of Dublin.

Catherine was not interested in founding another Religious Order; rather her intention was to establish a society of pious secular ladies who would devote themselves to the service of the poor, with liberty to return to their worldly life when they no longer felt inclined to this way of life.

With this aim in mind Catherine bought a house in fashionable Baggot Street and was soon joined by like minded women e.g. Fanny Tighe, Anne Marie Doyle, Elizabeth Hurley. She referred to these women as Associates.

Associates in the 21st Century

Associates, as we know them, today were ‘born’ as a result of Vatican 2.

In the document ‘Evangelica Testificatio’, Religious were called to be faithful to the spirit of their Founder, rediscover their founding Charism and in turn share this with other members of the Laity.

The Council also addressed the Laity emphasising that their Baptismal Vocation was first & foremost a call to personal holiness.

As lay people began to search for a spirituality that would suit their lay status it was natural that some would ‘associate’ with the ready made Spirituality and Apostolate of the Religious Orders. Many Religious Orders began to reach out and invite the laity to join them in a Partnership or Association.

Like the Sisters of Mercy, Associates of Mercy began in a small way.

In the 1980’s the General Chapters of the Sisters of Mercy promoted the setting up of Associate Groups. Interested Sisters throughout the U.K. set about inviting lay people to form Associate Groups. The first recorded Associate Groups were at Oldham and Colwyn Bay. In the last two decades there has been a rapid increase in the number of Associate Groups. There are groups in the UK as well as in Kenya and the Philippines.

Originally these Associates were men and women who had had some association with the Sisters of Mercy, for example – School, Parish, College, Hospital etc.

For more news see Mercy Associates' own website. 

Since 2000 five Youth Associate Groups have been established: in North Shields(Tyneside) St. John’s Wood (London), Liverpool (2 groups) and one in the Philippines.


In the beginning Groups were loosely structured and each Group did its ‘own thing’. It was usual to meet with a Sister of Mercy at the local Convent. The meeting would consist of prayer and a ‘good cup of tea’.

With the growth in the number of Groups and Associates a little more uniformity has been introduced.

A Pre-Associate period has been introduced during which time the pre-Associate becomes familiar with the biographical details of the life of Catherine McAuley and the Mercy Charism. A ceremony of Commitment has been introduced to last for one year and to be renewed annually if the Associate wishes to do so.

In 1994, following a request from Group Leaders, Training Packs were made available to groups. The packs provide material on Catherine McAuley and ideas for conducting meetings. Each group is also provided with CD’s of Sr. Carmel Bourke’s talks on Catherine and her spirituality. As well as developing their own spirituality many Associates are involved in a variety of ministries. There are currently Associates working in Peru and the Philippines. Associate groups also raise funds for many good causes at home and abroad.

The Mercy Associate National Commission

The Commission was established in 2000. Initially its task was to stimulate, encourage and develop Mercy Associates.

The Commission is composed of three Trustees (Sisters of Mercy), six Sisters and six Associates, Chaplaincy, Finance & Magazine teams. The Commission Secretary communicates with all Groups through the group link person. In this way effective communication is established and ensures that all groups receive the same information at the same time.

Catherine McAuley started with Associates and she will be happy to see Associates once more in the Mercy Family.

Youth Mercy Associates gather to Pray
Youth Mercy Associates gather to Pray