Sisters of Mercy

by Norma Manly

The “Sisters of Mercy” are a Catholic religious congregation founded in Ireland in 1831. In the Ireland of that time, a woman’s role in society was very restricted and defined. Confined to the home, the vast majority of women lived a poverty-stricken and uneducated life.

They sought for a more self-enriching and fulfilling life.

A woman named Catherine Mc Auley set about changing this reality. This Fearless lady rose above the rich predominantly Protestant society by setting up a center from an inherited fortune to provide educational, religious and social services for poor women and children.

More and more women joined her cause and were drawn to her work.

While Catherine never intended setting up a religious community of sisters, the Catholic Church and Irish society deemed it unacceptable for women to be working and living in close proximity to each other. An ultimatum was given, “become a congregation or abandon the dream”, and so the “Sisters of Mercy” were formed. While the primary motive in establishing the congregation was not out of the love of God or even Divine devotion it was rather seen as a means to living a more fulfilling and rewarding life.

Hundreds of women who were attracted to this way of life joined the cause, and so the congregation achieved admirable status. paving the way to its prestigious existence.

Now over 150 years later while the “Sisters of Mercy” are still in existence their place in Irish society is much more subdued.

With only a handful of women joining this path, the survival of this congregation as we know it looks bleak.

The present reality is that convents are closing their doors all over Ireland. These beautiful ornate buildings steeped in history once the epiphany of power and vision are now populated with aging or elderly women or have been taken over and adapted to the commercial demands or historical records of our world.

Are we witnessing the last generation of the Sisters of Mercy?

Is the work of Catherine McAuley complete?