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10th Nov 2022 - A Reflection from Sr. Assumpta

"I Would Rather Be Cold And Hungry Than That God's Poor Be Deprived Of Any Consolation In My Power To Help Them"

C. McAuley


The above words of our Venerable Foundress, Catherine McAuley, is a challenge to us to reflect on how we can reach out to those in need as we face uncertain times in our current political situation at home and abroad. In November and December, we celebrate important events in the life of the Mercy World, therefore I thought it a good opportunity to remember some of those occasions. In doing so it is vital to reflect on the life of Catherine.


Catherine was a woman who believed she could make a difference when she became aware of the poor as she drove around Dublin in her carriage. As soon as she laid to rest her adoptive parents Mr and Mrs O' Callaghan , who had bequeathed to her a huge legacy, she set about addressing the needs of women "in service" who were often exploited by the man of the house.


Catherine exercised thucharism of Mercy by being open, welcoming, supportive and encouraging of others. She was a woman who showed great humanity ,was very flexible and adaptable and always encouraged others to use their God given gifts to alleviate the needs of the poor. In the early days of the Congregation Catherine showed her ability to recognise the potential in others by regularly appointing very young Sisters to be the Community Leader in the different houses she opened all around Ireland. However, she did not believe in pushing people beyond their limits and gave good advice in the following words


"Let Us Take One Day In Hand At A Time, By Making A Resolve For Tomorrow, Thus We May Hope To Take Small Careful Steps Not Great Strides"


Catherine saw no virtue in poverty. Anything that addressed human dignity was worthy of her attention .She had a huge love and concern for people and her faith convinced her that she encountered Christ in her interaction with every person in need. With her lively imagination she believed in an alternative society.

Catherine's ministry to the poor, sick and underprivileged saw her take on hospital visitation together house to house visit especially to the sick poor. From the very beginning she put great importance on the education of children. She saw education as a tool for breaking the cycle of poverty. Her early Sisters without any concern for their own safety were proactive in visiting the Cholera Victims of Dublin of the 1830's.


Catherine's amazing response to the needs of her day spread wide and far and it was not long before the Parish Priest of Bermondsey, Fr. Peter Butler, approached her to make a foundation to the then Dickensian parish. In order to ensure that matters would speed up Fr Butler sent two Ladies , Elizabeth Agnew and Maria Taylor to Ireland to be trained in the Mercy way of life. These two ladies had lived in East Street and were active in supporting Fr Peter Butler in his ministry which at that time was mainly to Irish families whose fathers’ found employment in the docks. Having given the best possible formation and instruction Catherine professed the two English Ladies on the 19th of August 1839. Thereafter she took them to visit the many Irish communities in Ireland so that they would have a broad experience of the Mercy Spirit of Hospitality. By November all was ready and on the 18th Catherine and her band of Sisters set sail from Dublin for Liverpool with "A book of songs for the journey”. They arrived in London by train late in the evening of the 19th November and walked down Tooley Street in the rain at 7.00pm. On arrival at the unfinished Pugin Convent they had tea and went to sleep in the one room that was ready. Catherine was known to have said


"I Do Not Admire Mr Pugin's Taste Though He Is So Celebrated. He Was Determined That We Should Not Look Out Of The Windows, They Are Up To The Ceiling. We Could Not Touch The Glass Without Standing On A Chair"


From the experience gathered at Bermondsey, Catherine was able to arrange for a less expensive and a more durable Convent for Birmingham. The time spent in the cold damp Bermondsey Convent had serious effects on Catherine's health and it is said that she developed a cough that stayed with her until death.

Catherine stayed with the new Bermondsey Community for two months and appointed Mother Clare Moore as the Community Leader. In the locality the Sisters were known as THE WALKING NUNS since they were the first Nuns to walk the King's Highway following the Reformation. Mercy Ministry began immediately as the Sisters were graciously welcomed and they began Visitation Of Guys and St Thomas Hospitals as well as visitation of the Dockland slums with necessary items to relieve the poverty and suffering of its inhabitants. It is said that the Sisters walked the streets with loaves of bread up their huge sleeves to give necessary sustenance to children who watched their father die on a settle bed following an accident in the docks. The annals of the early days at Bermondsey make sober reading.


As I look back on our history with its joys, sorrows and tribulations I have a heart filled with gratitude for the Sisters who have gone before us over the past 183 years. Those who lay in bed on 2/3/1945 as the Convent was bombed around them and thereafter had the courage to return and build again to keep Mercy alive in Bermondsey.


"We rise again from ashes

From the good we've failed to do

We rise again from ashes

To create ourselves anew

If all our world is ashes

Then must our lives be true

An offering of ashes.

An offering for you"

Tom Conroy




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