Catherine McAuley lived in Dublin, Ireland at a time of great poverty and discrimination against Catholics. Though her parents died during her childhood, her father instilled a deep compassion in her for those left behind by society. From her mother she learned poise and social graces. Catherine spent 20 years caring for an aged couple, the Callaghans, and eventually became the heiress of their fortune.
She used all the money to build the House of Mercy for poor women and children in an upper class neighborhood of Dublin. Catherine knew how to connect the wealthy with the poor, and therefore was successful in gaining the support of wealthy women who wanted to help her in reaching out to those in need. Soon Catherine was advised by the Church to form a religious community in order for her good works to continue. At first Catherine resisted but finally consented and she and three companions became the first Sisters of Mercy in 1831.
Requests for Sisters came quickly and in her brief 10 years established convents across Ireland and in England. The Sisters of Mercycame to Cincinnati in 1858 and immediately began teaching and visiting the sick in their homes. Sisters answered the call to nurse in the Civil War. Soon the Sisters established schools and hospitals and staffed parish schools throughout the Archdiocese and beyond.
The Sisters of Mercy came to Nativity at the invitation of Rev. Jerome Bartel in 1925 and provided quality Catholic education to thousands of Nativity students for more than seven decades. Sister Carren Herring was the last Sister of Mercy to be principal at Nativity through 1984. The Mercy spirit and tradition continues in the school through the dedication of lay teachers.
The Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati
Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin, Ireland, on September 29, 1778. Orphaned at an early age, Catherine lived with an elderly couple, the Callaghans. On their death, Catherine inherited a very large sum of money which enabled her to build a house on Baggot Street, called the House of Mercy, providing shelter for women in need and education for poor children.
To ensure continuity of her ministry, Catherine was advised to form a religious community. Catherine and two companions pronounced vows on December 12, 1831, and became the first Sisters of Mercy. Now began the expansion of her works of mercy. Her profound faith and deep spiritual life sustained her through many obstacles and challenges. Her zeal, personal sanctity and prodigious effort inspired others to join her work.
After just ten years as a Sister of Mercy, Catherine died on November 11, 1841. During those ten years, fourteen Mercy Convents were established in Ireland and England and there were over 100 members of her Community. Her Order spread rapidly to Newfoundland, the United States, Australia, Scotland, New Zealand, and South America.
In 1857, Mrs. Sarah Peter visited the Sisters of Mercy in Kinsale, Ireland, in the name of Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati, and requested a foundation of Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati. Eleven Sisters volunteered for the mission and under the direction of Mother Mary Teresa Maher, boarded the “Arago” on July 28, 1858. They arrived in Cincinnati on August 18 and stayed in Mrs. Peter’s home on Third and Lytle Streets. The next morning, Archbishop Purcell came to the residence, offered Mass, welcomed the Sisters, and blessed and named the house “Convent of the Divine Will.”
Mrs. Peter’s home was not suitable for the Sisters’ works of mercy. The Sisters found a rundown house behind St. Thomas Church on Sycamore Street that enabled them to live among the poor.
Catherine McAuley counseled her Sisters that no work of mercy is more productive for the good of society than the instruction of women and children. The Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati heeded this counsel and within two months after their arrival opened a Night School for Young Women and a School for Infant Boys.
By 1860 the Sisters purchased the former German Orphanage and an adjacent building. They moved to their new Convent of the Divine Will on June 4, 1860. Here they continued and expanded their works of mercy. In 1869, the Sisters staffed their first parochial school, St. Patrick on Third and Mill Street. This was the beginning of their extensive work in parochial schools.
Over the 150 years in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Sisters have taught in numerous schools, including 119 years at St. Mary, Urbana, 102 years at St. Mary, Piqua, and 97 years at St. Patrick, London, Ohio. At the present time Sisters continue to serve in parish elementary schools while sponsoring Mercy Montessori Center in Walnut Hills.