catholic social action



Catherine McCauley (1778-1841) founded what became known as the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 - a religious congregation of women committed to service to the poor. Her original idea was to set up a 'House of Mercy' (on Baggot Street in Dublin) that would offer religious, educational and social services for women and children. In some respects her vision was similar to that of settlement pioneers. Those offering their services would live in the house and commit to working with people in the area. Unlike the settlements though, the original house was in a wealthy area.

The Roman Catholic church was uncomfortable with the existence of lay communities of this kind and to continue with the work Catherine McCauley set about establishing a religious order. She was able to undertake this work as she inherited a significant sum of money. Born into a reasonably well-off Catholic family in Dublin, Catherine McCauley had some experience of poverty. Her father, who had displayed considerable concern for the plight of local families, died when she was five and is said to have been great example. Her mother died when she was twenty - and she had to care for her younger brother and sister with no ready means of support. She became a companion to the elderly wife of a wealthy Quaker (William Callaghan). The couple were childless and when they died William Callaghan's fortune passed to Catherine McCauley.


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