Catherine McAuley was born into a wealthy Irish family in 1778. Her father welcomed poor children to their home on weekends for instruction in the Catholic faith. He died when Catherine was very young, but his compassion in influenced her entire life. Catherine’s mother taught her independence, poise, and charm. After her mother’s premature death Catherine eventually went to live with the Callaghans. For the next 20 years she cared for them and their estate while growing closer to God through prayer and works of charity.
She inherited the Callaghans’ fortune and used the money to build the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin. It was built as a school for poor children and a home for orphans and working girls. Other women joined her and in 1831 Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters soon earned the nickname of the “Walking Nuns” because they were frequently seen walking in the streets on their rounds to help the poor, the sick and the dying. The order quickly expanded its ministry to other parts of Ireland and England.
Two years after Catherine’s death in 1841, the Sisters of Mercy arrived in the United States, where they eventually established hospitals and institutions of higher learning such as Georgian Court University. Today, the circle of Mercy encompasses the world and includes roughly 8,000 Sisters and more than 250,000 colleagues in ministry.