The Life of Catherine McAuley (1778-1841)

If you’ve read my novella, Consequences, or even just the back cover copy, you’ll notice it takes place during the life of Catherine McAuley, a woman most people, especially outside of Ireland, have never heard of.

I found out about her nearly 18 years ago when I started working at my current day job. We can trace our history directly back to Catherine and her ministry. Here’s a brief summary of her life and if you want more details, I recommend the definitive biography of by Mary Sullivan titled The Path of Mercy.

Early Life and Culture

No images of Catherine McAuley exist from her lifetime. This is believed to be the most accurate depiction of her as a laywoman.

Catherine was born on September 28, 1778, into comfortable, middle-class circumstances. But at an early age she began to notice the poor and disadvantaged who were all around her on the streets of Dublin. Crop failures destroyed the agricultural economy and caused terrible famines. Desperate people migrated to the cities to work in factories, where they suffered horrifying working conditions, and those without work often ended up in poorhouses.

It was a time of extremes in Ireland. Social and religious prejudice was pervasive, especially against Catholics like Catherine. The ruling class was Protestant and education was available only to those with property and land, both of which most Catholics did not have thanks to earlier Penal Laws (more on those in a future post) that stripped Catholics of most of their rights. Wealth and poverty sat side by side but there were few resources available to help the poor.

Catherine felt great sorrow when she observed the suffering of the poor, especially disadvantaged women and children. As a girl, her own situation offered her many comforts, although after the death of her father Catherine’s family suffered economic hardships.  She felt called to change the environment in which she found herself and found supporters among both Catholic and Protestant connections.

Catherine’s Life Changes

The House of Mercy with a statue of Catherine out front.

When she was 25, Catherine was invited to live with a Quaker family, the Callaghans, at their country estate, Coolock House. She stayed with them for nearly 20 years, never marrying and taking care of them into their old age. At the age of 44, after having already created a network of services for poor people near Coolock, Catherine received a large inheritance when the Callaghans died within a short time of one another.

With that money she built a large home on Baggot Street in Dublin, bordering a fashionable neighborhood, to serve as a shelter and educational center for young women from poor neighborhoods. Skeptics called the house “Kitty’s Folly,” because her intentions were so daunting. On September 24, 1827, she opened the House of Mercy house on Baggot Street, where it stands today.

The Sisters of Mercy

A painting of Catherine made after her death depicting her as a Sister of Mercy.

The purpose of the House of Mercy was to prepare residents, nearly all women and children, for employment, self-sufficiency. Catherine’s determination and example attracted companions willing to give their time and money to help, but the Church didn’t like that they were lay women and insisted they form a religious order. In 1831, these women became the religious congregation known as the Sisters of Mercy, called “the walking sisters” because of their active involvement among the community.  Thus, in an era when the cloistered life was the norm for women in religious congregations, Catherine McCauley, at the age of 52, founded not only a charity, but also a religious congregation and a new form of religious life.

Catherine McAuley believed that God intended for the poor and the sick to be loved and cared for through action, prayer and philanthropy.  She never wavered from that mission in spite of the difficulties she faced. The Sisters of Mercy fought tuberculosis, cholera epidemics and the ravages of disease, prejudice and poverty. Terrible economic conditions forced many Irish to immigrate to other countries, and the Sisters extended their mission accordingly. The community expanded to 14 locations in Ireland and England before Catherine’s death in 1841.

Today the Sisters of Mercy sponsor a diverse range of ministries and professions.  Their mission is to serve the poor, the sick, and the uneducated through direct service, especially for women, children and the elderly, and to advocate for changes to the systems that create poverty and suffering.

Virtue Recognized by the Catholic Church
On April 9, 1990, Catherine was declared venerable by the Catholic Church. This is the first major step on the road to sainthood and means that her life and writings were closely examined and she was found to possess “heroic virtue.” Additional inquiries into her life will continue until two miracles are declared as occurring by her intercession, at which point she will become a saint. This could take hundreds of years, especially with advances in science making miracles more and more difficult to prove. (The process is much more complex than this, but this is the nutshell version.)

International Domestic Workers Day

In the 10 years I’ve been blogging (10 years today, actually!), I’ve never done two posts in one day because I don’t want to annoy you, my lovely readers. However, I am making an exception today because it is not only publication day for my new novella, Consequences, but also International Domestic Workers Day, which ties in closely with the plot and themes of the book.

Did you know that the men and women who clean our houses, tend our gardens, care for our children, aging parents and the disabled have practically no rights under U.S. Law? As such, many live below the poverty line and they are still routinely subject to unfair labor practices, abuse and even human trafficking. Read my op-ed in The Hill to learn more.

I knew nothing about this before I started research for this book. But since, I have become very passionate about it. I’ll be posting updates as things in Washington D.C. and other states happen because I intend to stay involved in this issue.

What You Can Do
If you employ domestic workers, know the law where you live and be sure they are paid and treated fairly. If you need help, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network is there to guide you.

Contact your representatives and urge them to fight for a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, especially Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Jayapal, who sponsored the 2019 bill. Congress holds the keys to a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights moving forward. Let them know that you support fair labor and employment practices for all and will no longer be silent while domestic workers are treated like second-class citizens.

Consequences is Out Today!

All decisions have consequences. Some are deadly. Others never let you go.

  • What would you do if your current living situation put you in mortal peril but you had no one to turn to?
  • How would you feel if someone you trusted betrayed you to someone with ill intent?
  • What would you do if someone came to you seeking help but you said no?
  • How would you feel if you never found out what happened to that person?

These are the questions at the heart of Consequences, my first historical novella, which is out today. This 35-page story is based on an actual event in the life of Catherine McAuley, a 19th century lay woman (later turned nun) who founded the Sisters of Mercy.

I first heard the story of the domestic servant whom Catherine turned away more than 15 years ago. That act was so in contradiction with who Catherine was and what she stood for that it stayed with me all this time. (It’s said it haunted Catherine as well.) I finally decided a few years ago to tell a fictional account of that servant’s story, to try to better understand what may have happened. Here’s the back cover copy:

Famous for her hospitality, Venerable Catherine McAuley only ever turned away one woman who came to her for help, and that decision haunted her for the rest of her life.

This is that servant’s story.

Dublin – 1824. When a fellow maid is forced to temporarily vacate her position under scandalous circumstances, Margaret finds herself in an elevated position under the watchful eye of their master, the infamous Lord Montague. He believes in total obedience from those in his employ and when she dares to fight back, Margaret is left with no choice but to flee or face his wrath. Desperate, she seeks out a pious spinster named Catherine McAuley who is known for her charity to the poor. The decisions both women make upon meeting will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, as well as everyone in their orbit.

Based on a true story, this heart-pounding historical tale will leave you wondering just how much has really changed in the last two hundred years.

The story is only available in ebook because it is too short to justify the cost of printing a hard copy. It is only available on Amazon (at least for now) and is free to Kindle Unlimited members and $2.99 to everyone else.

Don’t have a Kindle? Don’t worry! Just download the Kindle app to any smart phone, tablet or other device and you’ll be able to read it.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about the historical people and places behind Consequences to give those who have read it more context and hopefully entice those of you who are on the fence to buy it.

Special note for book clubs: If you are in a book club, I encourage you to make this one of your selections. It’s short (should take only about 60 mins to read), cheaper than a physical book and as long as everyone has a way to read it electronically, it would be a great one for discussion. Here are some questions to foster discussion. (Warning: they contain spoilers!) I also have ideas for themed food and music to go along with your discussion.

I’m more than happy to meet via Zoom, Facetime, whatever to talk with your group! Email me at nicole (dot) evelina (at) att (dot) net if you are interested.

Fearless Females: Sojourner Truth

This is the May column on women in history that I write for the women’s group at my day job. You’ll be hearing more about Sojourner from me in the future.

May is a month full of women’s firsts in sports, women’s suffrage, politics, finance and flight. But we’re going to focus on a woman whose name we all know, but whose story is often reduced to a handful of incidents. Read on to learn about outspoken advocate Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Bomfree (also spelled Baumfree, the name of her master’s family) into slavery in Ulster County, New York, in 1797. She was sold at the age of nine to an abusive master. By the age of 13, she had been sold several more times, finally to John and Elizabeth Dumont. When she was in her late teens, Isabella fell in love with another slave from a nearby farm named Robert, but they were not allowed to marry because they had two different masters. Instead, she was forced to marry a slave named Thomas who was also owned by Dumont. Together, they had five children between 1815-1827.

Dumont had promised to grant Isabella her freedom on July 4, 1826, “if she would do well and be faithful,” but when the time came, he went back on his word. In 1827, she fled the plantation and sought refuge for herself and her infant daughter, Sophia, with an abolitionist family in another town, the Van Wageners. (Her other children were still owned by Dumont.) Dumont tracked her down and when he attempted to take mother and child back, the Van Wageners bought her freedom for $20 (about $530 today). When the New York Anti-Slavery law was passed later that year, they helped Isabella sue Dumont for the return of her five-year-old-son Peter, who was illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. She was the first black woman to sue a white man in a United States court and prevail.

While living with the Van Wageners, Isabella converted to Christianity. She moved to New York City in 1828 to work as a housekeeper for a series of preachers. In 1843, she felt compelled to follow in their path and “preach the truth,” so she took the name we know her by, Sojourner Truth.

Over the next decade, Sojourner became an outspoken abolitionist, working with famous advocates such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She never learned to read or write, so she dictated her speeches to Olive Gilbert, who would later become her first biographer.

Sojourner gave her most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” on May 29, 1851, at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. In it, she recounted the discrimination she experienced as a Black woman. My favorite quote from it is, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it. The men better let them.”

In the 1850’s, Sojourner moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where three of her daughters lived. She continued speaking nationally and helped slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

When the Civil War started, Sojourner recruited Black men into the Union army and worked in Washington D.C. with the National Freedman’s Relief Association, gathering food, clothes and supplies for black refugees. While she was in Washington, she purposefully rode white-only streetcars as a form of protest against segregation. When a streetcar conductor tried to physically block her from getting into his car and became violent, she got him arrested and he was punished—a rarity in those days. In 1864, she was invited to the White House to meet President Abraham Lincoln.

After the war, Sojourner became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping freed slaves find jobs and build new lives. She also continued to work for women’s rights and temperance from her home in Michigan as she slowly grew nearly blind and deaf with age. Sojourner died on Nov. 26, 1883. Though her tombstone says she was 105, other records put her age at 86.

Nominate Virginia Minor and/or Victoria Woodhull to be on a Quarter

Ever wanted to see a woman on a quarter? Here’s your chance to nominate her!

In January, the Treasury Department signed the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020 into law. This law requires the U.S. Mint to issue quarters featuring prominent American women from January 1, 2022 through the end of 2025.

The act allows up to five coin designs per year and will feature women who have made significant contributions to U.S. history across a number of fields and categories, including suffrage.

Recommendations are now being accepted through the National Women’s History Museum in partnership with the U.S. Mint, the Smithsonian Institution American Women’s History Initiative, and the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus as consultants for the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020.

Of course, I’m pulling for Virginia Minor and Victoria Woodhull, but you can nominate any woman you want.

Want to help? Copy the following information and fill out this form to nominate Virginia, Victoria or the woman of your choice.

Name: Virginia L. Minor
Year of birth: 1824
Year of death: 1892
Fields: Suffrage, politics

Reason for inclusion: Suffragist, political strategist, and lifelong activist for gender/race race equality, Virginia was the only woman to bring women’s suffrage before the U.S. Supreme Court. She began the world’s first organization dedicated to solely to women’s suffrage two years before Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone created theirs. She also created the New Departure, the official strategy of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association from 1868-1875, which said the 14th  Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Link to supporting material: http://www.virginiaminor.com.

Name: Victoria Woodhull
Year of birth: 1838
Year of death: 1927
Fields: Suffrage, politics

Reason for inclusion: First woman in U.S. history to run for president in 1872. Suffragist, activist and speaker. First woman (along with her sister) to own and run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, first woman to speak before the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of women’s suffrage. Her run, while not successful, opened the door for dozens of women to run for the presidency.
Link to supporting material: http://www.woodhullrising.org.

Thank you to the Alice Paul Institute for making me aware of this initiative. They are, of course, nominating Alice, and I have voted for her as well.

Consequences Novella Now Available for Pre-order!

You may remember a year or so ago (okay two) when I mentioned I was writing a short story for an anthology to aid survivors of human trafficking. Well, the anthology didn’t come to pass, but my story did and it will hit virtual shelves June 16 in ebook format.

It turned out to be a novella, which means its slightly longer than a short story, but by no means a novel–about 10,000 words. It should only take about an hour to read. (If you have another tablet or reader you can always download the Kindle app.)

Pre-order now. The story is free to Kindle Unlimited members and only $2.99 to everyone else.

What’s it about?

Famous for her hospitality, Venerable Catherine McAuley only ever turned away one woman who came to her for help, and that decision haunted her for the rest of her life.

This is that servant’s story.

Dublin – 1824. When a fellow maid is forced to temporarily vacate her position under scandalous circumstances, Margaret finds herself in an elevated position under the watchful eye of their master, the infamous Lord Montague. He believes in total obedience from those in his employ and when she dares to fight back, Margaret is left with no choice but to flee or face his wrath. Desperate, she seeks out a pious spinster named Catherine McAuley who is known for her charity to the poor. The decisions both women make upon meeting will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, as well as everyone in their orbit.

Based on a true story, this heart-pounding historical tale will leave you wondering just how much has really changed in the last two hundred years.

Why June 16?

June 16 is International Domestic Workers Day. Though we may think of abuse of servants as a thing of the past, unfortunately it is not. The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn’t have any official national law or international compact protecting domestic workers or ensuring fair labor practices for them. Plus, thousands are trafficked every year. I chose to Consequences on this date to shed light on this terrible problem.

Poetry for Healing

I think I forgot to mention here that I’ve started writing poetry again–first time since high school. You can see the first three poems I’ve made public:

  1. Soul of a Poet
  2. Awakening
  3. Binary/Spectrum

April is both National Poetry Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I didn’t realize the two coincided until today. Violence against women ALWAYS bothers me, but the recent spate of occurrences plus the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that if a woman has been drinking, a man sexually assaulting her isn’t rape have really gotten under my skin.

It has also brought up some things from my past that I have been trying to work through with poetry. I realize that my experiences have all been “near-misses” so they aren’t as bad as so many women have gone through, but they still caused me trauma. These three poems are all very personal, but I want to share them in an effort to heal.

This first one is about our rape culture in general:

American Injustice

A gavel bangs
A man goes free
To ruin his potential is an impossibility.

The woman,
Lord, she was asking for it!
Didn’t you see her drinking?
And that skirt—
If she didn’t want it
She wouldn’t have worn it.

Brock Turner, Francios Momolu Khalil,
R. Kelly—hell, we have you on tape.
But in Minnesota, if she’s been drinking
It’s not rape.

Blame the victim for the crime
It’s a tale as old as time.
Even Adam blamed Eve.

Slap his hand—“boys will be boys” after all.
But she’s the one who has to live with what he’s done.
Nightmares, flashbacks—that’s her justice paid.
But he’s America’s beloved son
So let him serve no time.
God forbid he faces his crime.

She’ll remember for years to come
Her time of pain is never done.

And they wonder why we need an ERA.

This one is about how the world is so messed up that women have be grateful when men don’t rape/abuse/kill them.

Forgive Yourself

How fucked up is it
That I’m thankful
My boyfriend didn’t rape me
In the back seat of a car when I was 19?

That he understood “no?”
Even if he pressured me to go farther than I wanted?

Instead of asking for consent
He forced things to a point
Where I felt like I had to go with what he wanted.

Yet I’m grateful he showed me
A modicum of respect by
Not forcing himself on me.

He pressured me
Yet I feel the shame.
He made me feel I had no choice
Yet I still carry the guilt.
He violated me in body and spirit
(there are more ways to violate than with a penis)
Yet I am grateful it wasn’t worse.

What fucked up world do we live in
That I still carry the scars from that night
—23 years ago—
And he probably doesn’t even remember my name?

Another case of boy goes free
While girl takes the blame.

This poem is the true story of the worst night I have ever experienced. I know so many women have experienced so much worse, but this night still haunts me.

#MeToo

Drunk girl
Twenty-two
Thinks she’s hot
Knows what to do.

Meets a man
He knows the band
Their “manager,” you see.
He’s a real somebody.

She knows the band
But not this guy.
Where’s he been?
Is this a lie?

Music blasts.
She loves this song.
She thinks she danced,
But can’t recall.

Set is over.
Last call.
Time to go.

Stumble outside
The “manager” appears.
“Want to say goodbye to the band?
They’re backstage. Take my hand.”

Darkened room
She walks in first
Lock clicks
He’s blocking the door
And she is doomed.

_________

This is bad.
How many drinks you had?
Shit, shit, shit—sober up!
You can see what’s coming in your head.

Suddenly sober
You have to get out
If you don’t, you know how this turns out.

Use a trick.
Get to the door.
Or he will pin you to the floor.

Ancient instinct whispers.
It’s worth a shot.
Maybe you’ll make it
If you show him what you’ve got.

Lift your shirt
Expose your breasts
Make him think you want him.

Fumbling with his zipper
He moves away
Distracted.

Lunge for the door.
Pray your fingers
Can work the lock.

The knob turns.
Out you run,
Past your friends.

If you can get outside
It will all be alright.

There they are
Out in front
The four band members
Loading up a van.

They never were
Inside, you see.
That was just a fantasy.

A trick to get you alone,
Make you vulnerable.
After all, you were drunk,
Who would blame him for a fuck?

You would have kicked and screamed,
Lost your virginity.
But now at least
You are safe.

God was watching.
You got lucky.
You are scarred but not broken.

________________

Assault is never a victimless crime.
It leaves its marks.
They don’t fade with time.

Twenty yeas later his name is gone,
But I can still see his face.

How many other girls?
How many other nights?
Young and dumb,
But not as blessed.

I will never know
What it was that made me
Flash my breasts
–the old “if I show you mine”—
But it was just enough
to buy some time
and prevent a rape.

Lesson learned:
Never walk into a room before a man.

Because what happens there
Will be your fault.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray – Out Today!

My friend and fellow historical fiction author, Stephanie Dray, has a new book out today! She calls The Women of Chateau Lafayette a seven-year labor of love. I know all about books that take years to come to fruition so I can’t wait to read this one. I’ve read her previous books, America’s First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton and loved them, so I’m sure this one will be excellent as well.

Oh and it was picked as one of OprahMag’s most anticipated historical fiction novels, so….Be sure to check it out!

✭✭✭ ABOUT THE BOOK ✭✭✭

An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy.

Most castles are protected by men. This one by women.

A founding mother…

  1. Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband, the Marquis de Lafayette’s political partner in the fight for American independence. But when their idealism sparks revolution in France and the guillotine threatens everything she holds dear, Adrienne must renounce the complicated man she loves, or risk her life for a legacy that will inspire generations to come.

A daring visionary…

  1. Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing—not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. But after witnessing the devastation in France firsthand, Beatrice takes on the challenge of a lifetime: convincing America to fight for what’s right.

A reluctant resistor…

  1. French school-teacher and aspiring artist Marthe Simone has an orphan’s self-reliance and wants nothing to do with war. But as the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.

Intricately woven and powerfully told, The Women of Chateau Lafayette is a sweeping novel about duty and hope, love and courage, and the strength we take from those who came before us.

✭✭✭ADD TO YOUR GOODREADS LIST✭✭✭

✭✭✭SIGN UP TO BE NOTIFIED✭✭✭

✭✭✭ FOLLOW STEPHANIE ON BOOKBUB ✭✭✭

✭✭✭ BUY NOW ✭✭✭

Amazon | Apple Books | Audible | Book Depository | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | IndieBound | Books-a-million | Target | Kobo

✭✭✭ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ✭✭✭

STEPHANIE DRAY is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. Now she lives in Maryland with her husband, cats, and history books. For more, see: StephanieDray.com

Madame Presidentess Named “Essential Reading” for Women’s History Month!

I’m so honored that Success Magazine (of which I’m a BIG fan) has named Madame Presidentess as one of their 10 Essential Books to Read for Women’s History Month! This such a huge honor! Especially to be on a list along with Rupi Kaur and Melinda Gates!