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I look upon Miss McAuley as one selected by Heaven for some great work. Her heart overflows with the charity of Jesus, whose all-consuming love burns within her. No woman has ever accomplished more for suffering, sorrowful humanity. I will venture to say that her name is written in the Book of Life.
— Reverend Father Michael Blake, homily for the dedication of the first Mercy Chapel (1829)

Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley

Catherine McAuley was born near Dublin, Ireland on September 29, 1778. After the death of both her parents, Catherine went to live with relatives who embodied the strong anti-Catholic atmosphere of the times. This was a difficult trial for Catherine, but through it she developed a spirituality based on God's Mercy. She found “peace in the Cross, joy in suffering, prayer in action and action in prayer” (Bolster, “Catherine McAuley”). Catherine sought to provide solace to sick and needy families, to train young girls for employment and to instruct poor children.

When Catherine was twenty-five, a retired Quaker couple invited her to live with them. Catherine proved to be a loving companion and holy example to them. On their death beds, they converted to Catholicism, and bequeathed their estate to her. With this inheritance, Catherine built a house on Baggot Street in Dublin as a home for poor girls. This first Home of Mercy opened on September 24, 1827, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. Her work with the poor and destitute led Catherine to desire a life of total consecration to Our Lord. Encouraged by the Archbishop, Catherine and two other women professed vows on December 12, 1831, and began the Religious Institute of the Sisters of Mercy. Often seen walking the streets to serve the sick and the poor, the “walking nuns” inspired many women to dedicate themselves to Christ and to the service of the Church, causing the Institute to spread rapidly.

By the time of Mother Catherine's death in 1841, there were 100 Sisters of Mercy in ten foundations. In April of 1990, in completion of one stage of the process by which the Catholic Church defines sainthood, Pope John Paul II declared Catherine McAuley “Venerable.”

The legacy of union and charity and tender mercy to Christ's poor left by Mother Catherine to her daughters was kept alive through the Constitutions she wrote, her letters, her poetry, and most of all her prayers. Mother Catherine was gifted with a profound love of God, expressed in a deep love for her Sisters, and a tremendous sense of humor able to help sustain others through difficult times. Her Suscipe expresses her surrender to the loving Mercy of God.

Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma 1973 Refoundation

Her memory is pushing me on. It’s a beautiful thing to be a Sister of Mercy!
— Mother Frances Warde, concerning Mother Catherine McAuley
In the midst of the refoundation, the Founding Mothers of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan visited Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland (Mother Catherine’s first foundation for the Sisters of Mercy). Here, four of them are at Mother Catherine McAuley’s writing desk, as she left it, in her room (the writing desk is also pictured above in the large image).

In the midst of the refoundation, the Founding Mothers of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan visited Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland (Mother Catherine’s first foundation for the Sisters of Mercy). Here, four of them are at Mother Catherine McAuley’s writing desk, as she left it, in her room (the writing desk is also pictured above in the large image).

The renewal of religious life has taken place numerous times in the course of history. It has often been marked by a refocusing on the basic principles of the authentic vocation of religious life in the Church. The Second Vatican Council ended in 1965. Perfectae Caritatis-- the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, issued by the Second Vatican Council and written by Pope Paul VI-- challenged religious to renew the charism of their particular institute, as intended by its founder.

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In 1966, four Religious Sisters of Mercy of the faculty of the Mercy College in Detroit started a comprehensive study on the Mercy Spirituality as a way to activate the directive of the Second Vatican Council regarding the renewal of religious life. The study was entitled, “Terms for a lifestyle in Mercy: As related to Mercy Covenant” and included 10 terms, which the Sisters concluded were essential elements of their Institute.

Upon the request of the Mother General of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, in 1967, this study was presented to all provinces. The Mother General and her council decided that an experimentation community, following these “terms for a lifestyle in Mercy,” would be initiated. They recommended various sites; however, in 1970, the experiment began in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it included seven Religious Sisters of Mercy.

Within a year, this experimental community grew to include 12 Sisters. 1971 also resulted in changes of leadership in the Provincial and General Superior, and in that year, several Sisters left the Order—the Detroit Province went from 800 Sisters to 200. As this “experimental community” continued in its observance of the various terms, it became increasingly distinct from the changes taking place within the larger body.

Due to these differences in the life-style and expression of Mercy, The Vatican's Sacred Congregation for Religious Life decided that the “experimental community” should be established as a distinct Institute of Pontifical Rite. The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan were founded September 1, 1973.

10 Terms for a Lifestyle in Mercy

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  1. The faithful perseverance in the vowed commitment

  2. The mutual love and union as a task to be achieved— which calls for the loving day-to-day participation of every Sister

  3. The visible witness as the Church to persons embraced by Mercy through the wearing of a habit and veil

  4. The daily communal prayer—which incarnates the Sister and community as a point of convergence for the mercy of God and the misery of mankind

  5. The commitment to formative and communal dialogue— which constantly renews and restores the community in a bond of joy and peace

  6. The active and creative collaboration with bishops and pastors in a life of concrete challenge and response—which enables the Community to live and think as ecclesial women with the Church

  7. The presence of a superior in each local community—which liberates each Sister to affirm the Mercy of the Father and the obediential sacrifice of the Son through a consistency of surrender in her daily life

  8. The complete sharing of goods (material and spiritual)—which reflects the united dependence on the providence of God and the maternal fruitfulness of Mercy

  9. A vibrant and collaborative apostolate—which requires communal responsiveness to service and creative collaboration with persons/groups outside the Institute, while still maintaining a primary commitment to the growth of the conventual life

  10. The formation of each Sister in the principles and theology that underlie each term “for a life style in Mercy,” lived within the Community of Mercy