Catherine McAuley and our Holy Patrons

 Catherine McAuley was a woman of great wisdom, vision and deep spirituality.  She  was very much a woman of her own time her  and traditions.  The early years of the Congregation, founded on 12th December 1831, were phenomenally busy. There was ongoing work to prepare the draft Rule and Constitutions for approval by Rome. There was a constant stream of Receptions, Professions and sadly many deaths. A few months after the convent opened a cholera epidemic broke out and the sisters were called upon to work in a cholera hospital in Townsend Street; for several months they worked in shifts from 9:00 a.m. – 8.00 p.m. 

There was mixed reactions to the birth of the new Congregation. Clergy from different parts of the country appreciated the value of sisters working among the poor without the restrictions of enclosure and were anxious to have such convents in their parish.

There was opposition closer to home and Catherine was involved with very painful ongoing disputes regarding the public use of the Convent Chapel and Chaplaincy provision for the sisters and the women in the House of Mercy.There were disputes in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) over school buildings and in Baggott St. over the contract for building a laundry. 

Add to this nine foundations including Bermondsey the first Convent of Mercy outside Ireland and Catherine’s own poor health; she had two bad falls and ongoing trouble with very painful gums. All this was within a time span of ten years. We have to ask, ‘How did she do it?

My theory is she drew on the wisdom of our Catholic tradition and enlisted an ‘Army of Patrons’ to support her and the Congregation. This thought came to me last Sunday the feast of St. Camillus de Lellis who is one of Catherine’s army of patrons. I remember at my reception ceremony receiving the original Holy Rule, a very small black book, another very small black book called ‘Thoughts from the Spiritual Conferences of Catherine McAuley’ and a slightly larger book called ‘Manual of Prayers. I had a memory that the list of patrons was in one of these books. I found my original Rule and ‘Thoughts from Spiritual Conferences’ and Sr. Barbara kindly sent me a copy of the Manual of Prayers. It was in the latter that I found ‘The Litany of our Holy Patrons’ and a prayer for each Saint.

 I imagine these books were originally in manuscript form and issued to each new foundation where more copies would have been transcribed for branch houses and new foundations. I think the laborious copying and sharing of these and other writings of Catherine and the early sisters were the adhesive which kept the Congregation closely united and the spirit of that first community palpably present in all mercy communities around the world and to this day. In my view it accounts for that strange but wonderful sense of familiarity, warmth and being at home which we experience in every Mercy Convent we have the privilege to visit. We owe a deep gratitude to those early Sisters and to others who across the centuries have contributed to the gathering and sharing of the great wealth of the original, inspirational writings of Sisters during those early formative years of our Congregation.

It occurred to me that some of us may not be familiar with the Saints that Catherine enlisted as the Patrons of our Congregation and that it might be helpful to remind ourselves of each as their feastday is celebrated so I resolved to do this and will begin with St Camillus de Lellis whose feastday was on the 14th July. A short account of his life and work may be found in this section of the website

The Litany of our Holy Patrons may also be accessed from this section of the web site.