Ardscoil Mhuire traces its origins to the first Mercy Convent founded in Limerick by Catherine McCauley in 1883.
The Mercy Congregration
The Sisters of Mercy were founded by Dublin woman Catherine McAuley in Lower Baggot St. in December 1831. The first of three children, Catherine was born, in 1778 in Stormanstown House in north Co Dublin. The Ireland of Catherine’s childhood was one where Catholics suffered hardship, poverty, deprivation and proselytisation.
Unusual for the time, Catherine’s father James McAuley, even-though a Catholic, was a wealthy businessman and builder with a strong faith and commitment to the poor around him. His living out of the Christian values made a lasting impression on her. However, by the time Catherine was twenty years old she had lost both parents and the family was reduced to living on the charity of relatives and friends. In 1803 Catherine welcomed an invitation from the childless Quaker couple, Catherine and William Callaghan of Coolock, to live with them as companion and helper to Mrs Callaghan.
On the deaths of Catherine and William Callaghan (both of them Catholics by then) in 1819 and 1822 respectively, Catherine McAuley became the unconditional heiress to the Callaghan fortune that she used ‘to build a house in Baggot St. where the children of the poor would be educated’.
She was convinced that education was the only answer to the ignorance and enslavement that was rampant among the poor. This was a conviction shared by Dr. Daniel Murray who became Archbishop of Dublin in 1823.
In time, other like-minded women joined Catherine McAuley in her work of educating the poor and took up residence in the house on Baggot St. which was opened on 24 September 1827 and called the House of Mercy.
It was her intention to establish a ‘pious house’ but by 1830, Archbishop Murray made it clear that ‘some of their number ‘should serve a novitiate and so Catherine herself, now fifty two years old, along with two companions, went to the Presentation Convent at George’s Hill to begin their novitiate. They were professed on 12 December 1831 and returned to the House of Mercy that same day, the foundation day of the congregation.
Catherine McAuley was a woman of faith, conviction, generosity and a pragmatism that called for extraordinary courage. She was very much a woman who read the signs of the times and made a very practical response. In turn she was responded to by the generosity of many young women who came to join her in the Mercy congregation and the generosity of friends and benefactors who made the work possible.
In the ten years she lived as a religious she established twelve houses of the congregation in Ireland and two in England and had plans to go to Newfoundland. After her death the congregation continued to grow and expand. Every Mercy foundation was made in response to a request and almost without exception, the first task undertaken was that of teaching.