Today is Mercy Day, the 196th anniversary of the opening of the first House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. On September 24, 1827, Catherine McAuley, Anna Maria Doyle and Catherine Byrn—all lay women—officially opened their sanctuary for poor women and children, against the wishes of Catholic Church and wealthy and influential Dubliners. These groups objected to the idea of the “undesirable” poor dirtying the pristine streets of the fashionable neighborhood in which the House of Mercy (today called Mercy International Centre) had been built.
But Catherine didn’t care. Her top priority was helping young women—usually servants who were in danger from sexual and physical violence at the hands of their masters—as well as widows and their children, orphans, and others in need by teaching them a trade, basic education (how to read, write and do basic math) and giving them food and shelter until they could get safe employment. While other charitable organizations existed across Dublin, this was the first time a group of lay women dared to do such a thing without being under the control of the male leadership of the Catholic, Protestant, Quaker Churches.
Needless to say, this did not go over well. My book, Catherine’s Mercy, (publishing November 7 but available for preorder today) attempts to paint a picture of what led up to this historic moment and, even more important, what else these trailblazing women—led by Catherine McAuley—did that would change the world. Catherine and Anna, despite their intentions to remain lay women—went on to found the Sisters of Mercy religious order. Today over 6,000 Sisters, 3,100 lay volunteers (or Mercy Associates) and 1,100 volunteers carry on Catherine’s mission in 160 health care, education, social work and other organizations in North, Central and South America; the Caribbean; Guam and the Philippines.
I am proud to have been one of these people for the last 20 years (as of November 17 of this year) and was fortunate enough to visit the House of Mercy several years ago, along with many other key places in Catherine’s life. I had no idea then that I would even be a published author, much less that I would someday write a book about Catherine and the Sisters. But I can’t help believe this is one of the reasons I’ve worked there for so long. I’m a person of faith and I feel like God and Catherine (who is on the path to sainthood in the Catholic Church) had a plan all along. It was just up to me to get there. I can’t wait for you to read this book when it comes out in November. Happy Mercy Day to all!