The Sisters of Mercy are a Roman Catholic community of women religious founded by Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland in 1831. From a young age, Catherine McAuley was aware of the poverty, disease, and anti-Catholic prejudice that existed in Ireland. The unjust penal laws imposed by Britain over several centuries had resulted in widespread destitution. With a large inheritance from William Callaghan, Catherine was determined to try to counteract these injustices. She opened the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin in 1827 to provide a place where young, homeless women could live, practice their religion, and learn a trade to support themselves. Her compassionate, affectionate, and witty personality attracted many young women to help.
Archbishop Daniel Murray of Dublin advised Catherine to start a religious community to continue the works of mercy begun on Baggot Street. The Sisters of Mercy were established on December 12, 1831, after she and two companions made their novitiate at the Presentation Convent in Dublin. People referred to these early Sisters of Mercy as “the walking nuns” because they were seen in the streets on their way to minister to the poor and sick. The Mercy charism of love of God and love of neighbor was expressed in compassionate, tender and respectful service to all in need.
Catherine McAuley lived to see her community established in ten Irish towns and two English towns before dying in 1841. Dedicated to service, these “walking nuns” soon grew and expanded across Ireland, England, then quickly to America, Australia, and New Zealand.
Several digitized archival artifacts from the Mercy Heritage Center are located below.