Introducing Catherine McAuley

Irishwoman Catherine McAuley was, by any measure, a remarkable woman. In many ways she was a radical woman, a game changer.

Catherine, who had a deep faith in God, began her work with poor women when she set up the first House of Mercy in Baggot St, Dublin in1827. In the streets of Dublin she was moved to act when she saw people, particularly women and children with little food and no where to sleep. She used her foster parents’ legacy to build the House of Mercy where homeless women were housed, poor girls were educated and the sick received care.

Catherine McAuley  went on to found the Sisters of Mercy, an order of women religious who continued her work and expanded its reach around the world.

The Sisters of Mercy came to Australia in 1846 and continue today. For all of this time they too have been game changers. Seeing a need and responding to it. They have started schools, hospitals, and services for those marginalised by society.

In 1988 two pioneering Sisters of Mercy Sheila Heywood and Wilma Geary set up Mercy Care in Melbourne. Sr Sheila’s vision at the beginning was to have a house where isolated and lonely women, often new arrivals to Australia, could come, with their children, for a cuppa and a chat around the kitchen table.

The Mercy Care house hadn’t been opened long when word got around that Sr Sheila would give women and their children a bed if they were escaping a violent partner and had no where else to go. They built relationships with State-run services and accepted women from 4pm and 9am when other refuges were closed. And so began the Mercy Sisters’ long history of providing a refuge for women who are homeless and women and their children escaping family violence.

In 2008 the Sisters of Mercy decided to amalgamate Mercy Care and Regina Coeli (McAuley House), to form McAuley Community Services for Women, which remains a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy. Women still come, every day of the year, some with their children, seeking refuge.

Like Catherine McAuley, the Sisters of Mercy in Australia today work alongside committed lay staff and volunteers to provide these services. This week we will introduce you to some more of these remarkable women.