Sisters of Mercy
Formation12 December 1831; 192 years ago (12 December 1831)
Founded atDublin, Ireland
TypeReligious congregation
LeaderCatherine McAuley Edit this at Wikidata

The Sisters of Mercy is a religious institute for women in the Roman Catholic Church. It was founded in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland, by Catherine McAuley. As of 2019, the institute has about 6200 sisters worldwide, organized into a number of independent congregations. They also started many education and health care facilities around the world.


Main article: Catherine McAuley


The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy began when Catherine McAuley used an inheritance to build a large house on Baggot Street, Dublin, as a school for poor girls and a shelter for homeless servant girls and women. She was assisted in the works of the house by local women. There was no idea then of founding a religious institution; McAuley's plan was to establish a society of secular ladies who would spend a few hours daily in instructing the poor. Gradually the ladies adopted a black dress and cape of the same material reaching to the belt, a white collar and a lace cap and veil.

In 1828, Archbishop Daniel Murray advised Miss McAuley to choose some name by which the little group might be known, and she chose that of "Sisters of Mercy", having the design of making the works of mercy the distinctive feature of the institute. She was, moreover, desirous that the members should combine with the silence and prayer of the Carmelite, the active labors of a Sister of Charity. The position of the institute was anomalous, its members were not bound by vows nor were they under a particular rule.

Archbishop Murray asked the Sisters of Mercy to declare their intentions as to the future of their institute, whether it was to be classed as a religious congregation or to become secularized. The associates unanimously decided to become religious. It was deemed better to have this congregation unconnected with any already existing community.[1]

On the Octave of the Ascension 1829 the archbishop blessed the chapel of the institution and dedicated it to Our Lady of Mercy. This combination of the contemplative and the active life necessary for the duties of the congregation called forth so much opposition that it seemed as though the community, now numbering twelve, must disband; but it was settled that several of the sisters should make their novitiates in some approved religious house and after their profession return to the institute to train the others to religious life.

The Presentation Sisters, whose rule was based on the Rule of St. Augustine, seemed best adapted for the training of the first novices of the new congregation and Miss McAuley, Miss Elizabeth Harley, and Miss Anna Maria Doyle began their novitiate at George's Hill, Dublin, on 8 September 1830.[1] While they were in training, Miss Frances Warde managed the affairs of the Baggot Street house.[2]

On 12 December 1831, Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle, and Mary Elizabeth Harley professed their religious vows as the first Sisters of Mercy, thereby founding the congregation. In 1839 Mary Francis Bridgeman professed her vows and joined the congregation


Mercy Convent, Templemore, County Tipperary

In the 10 years between the founding and her death on 11 November 1841, McAuley had established additional independent foundations in Ireland and England:[3] Tullamore (1836), Charleville (1836), Carlow (1837), Cork (1837), Limerick (1838), Bermondsey, London (1839), Galway (1840), Birr (1840), and St Mary's Convent, Birmingham (1841), as well as branch houses of the Dublin community in Kingstown (1835) and Booterstown (1838).

The Sisters offered free schools for the poor, academies for the daughters of the rising middle class, and “houses of mercy”, providing shelter for poor youth and women in Dublin and other cities who were in danger of being exploited. They were called upon by bishops in several major epidemics of cholera to nurse people in homes and in the public hospitals.[4]

Their services were in much demand. McAuley opened the first Convent of Mercy in England at Bermondsey on 19 November 1839 for the education of children and the visitation of the poor, sick, and needy. Mother Mary Clare Moore was appointed Superior. The convent was designed in the 'Gothic Style' by Augustus Pugin, his first purpose-designed religious community building. It was destroyed during World War II.[5]

In May 1842, at the request of Bishop Fleming, a small colony of Sisters of Mercy crossed the Atlantic to found the congregation at St. John's, Newfoundland. In 1846, the sisters arrived in Perth, Australia. In the United States, the first community of Sisters of Mercy was established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1843 followed by Providence, Rhode Island in 1851.[6] Sisters from Limerick opened a house in Glasgow in 1849 and a band from Carlow, Irland arrived in New Zealand, in 1850. In 1860, St Catharine's Convent was founded in Edinburgh and in 1868, the English community established houses in Shrewsbury and on the island of Guernsey.[1]

Crimean War

With the London Times reporting appalling conditions at the front, the War Office appealed for volunteer nurses. On 14 October 1854, Bishop Thomas Grant, of Southwark approached the Sisters at Bermondsey.[4] Together with other nuns, six Bermondsey Sisters of Mercy, including Mary Bernard Dickson, travelled to Crimea to work under Nightingale.[7]

Boer War

At the request of the bishop of Mahikeng, Dr Anthony Gaughran, sisters came to South Africa to found convents there. Mother Superior Teresa Cowley led a group from the convent in Strabane, with the group acting as nurses to the military during the siege of Mahikeng.[8]

Mercy International Association

In 1992 leaders of the various congregations formed the "Mercy International Association" to foster collaboration and cooperation. The Mercy International Centre is located in Dublin. Members of the Association are:

Vows and activities

Sisters of Mercy is an international community of Roman Catholic women religious vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children. Members take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the evangelical counsels commonly vowed in religious life, and, in addition, vows of service.[10]

They continue to participate in the life of the surrounding community. In keeping with their mission of serving the poor and needy, many sisters engage in teaching, medical care, and community programs. The organization is active in lobbying and politics.


The Sisters of Mercy are constituted as religious and charitable organizations in a number of countries. Mercy International Association is a registered charity in Ireland.[11]


Main articles: Abuse scandal in the Sisters of Mercy and Magdalene laundries in Ireland

In 1869 Sister of Mercy Susan Saurin brought suit against her superiors accusing them of bullying, assault and imprisonment, and claiming £5,000 in damages. The "Great Convent Case" opened at Westminster Hall with heightened press interest given Victorian antipathy to all things Catholic.[12] The Daily Telegraph made a special publication on the "Inner Life of the Hull Nunnery Exposed" to cover the trial.[13] Saurin won her case and was awarded fifty pounds in damages.[14]

In May 2009, the institute was among four religious congregations for women that have come under scrutiny and criticism for their part in running Magdalene laundries in decades past, where women were brought by the state or their families for being unmarried and pregnant, or for other reasons. The report found that girls supervised by congregations or orders, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but instead endured frequent assaults and humiliation.[15]

The Mercy Sisters have noted they were not compensated for caring for the women and that the laundries were not profit-making ventures. "We acknowledge fully the limitations of the service we provided for these women when compared with today's standards and sincerely wish that it could have been different. We trust that the implications of the changed context are understood by the wider society."[16]

In 2011, as part of their Sculpture Trail initiative, the Ennis Tidy Towns Committee erected a statue at the site of the old St. Xavier's Primary School, now the Clare Museum.[17] Created by Barry Wrafter, it was commissioned to celebrate the work of the Sisters of Mercy since their coming to the town in 1854.[18]

Schools founded or run by Sisters of Mercy





New Zealand

In 1849 Bishop Pompallier visited St Leo's Convent in Carlow, Ireland, seeking sisters to emigrate; eight left from St Leo's, led by Mother Mary Cecilia. They travelled to New Zealand, learning Māori along the way, establishing the Sisters of Mercy in Auckland as the first female religious community in New Zealand in 1850.[22][23]


United Kingdom

United States

Hospitals and healthcare work





Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Michael O'Connor was born in Cobh, Ireland. In June 1841, O'Connor was appointed Vicar General of Western Pennsylvania, and two years later, Bishop of the newly constituted Diocese of Pittsburgh. He traveled to Rome for his consecration and on his return, stopped in Ireland to recruit clergy for his new diocese, obtaining eight seminarians from St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, and seven Sisters of Mercy from Carlow, Ireland. The sisters arrived in Pittsburgh in December 1843, with Frances Warde as superior.[32] Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania opened 1898.[33]

In 1858, Mother Mary Teresa Maher led a group of ten Sisters of Mercy to Cincinnati from Kinsale, Ireland.[34] In 1892, the eleven Sisters of Mercy came to Cincinnati at the invitation of Archbishop John Baptist Purcell. They soon opened a Night School for Young Women. Mercy Hospital in Hamilton, Ohio was founded in 1892. Mother of Mercy High School was founded in 1915. They also direct Bethany House Services for homeless women and children.[35]

By the 1920s there were 39 separate Sisters of Mercy congregations across the United States and Latin America. In 1929 the "Sisters of Mercy of the Union" was founded, merging many of the congregations into one single entity with nine provinces. Seventeen communities remained independent. A federation of all the Mercy congregations was formed and in the 1970s, a common constitution was developed. Further work toward consolidation continued, and in July 1991, the "Sisters of Mercy of the Americas" was established. In December 2018, the sisters marked 175 years in the United States.[16]

In July 2017 "Mercy Education System of the Americas" (MESA) was formally established to unite and serve the Mercy education ministries in Argentina, Belize, Guam, Honduras, Jamaica, the Philippines and the United States.[36]

The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma are a separate congregation of women religious. They developed from the Sisters of Mercy, and were established as an institute of pontifical right in 1973.[37]


Secondary schools

Colleges and universities





The Sisters founded dozens of hospitals in the United States,[39] and sponsors, or co-sponsors, six health systems. The organization also operates health care ministries in Belize, Guam, Guyana, Peru and the Philippines.[16]

In 1892, they founded Mercy Hospital in Hamilton, Ohio. "With lots of heavy industry in Hamilton at the time, there was a lot of need for emergency care for accident victims."[40]

In 1893, they founded Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa[41]

In 1916, the Sisters of Mercy established Sisters of Mercy's St. Joseph's Sanitarium, in Asheville, North Carolina, to treat tuberculosis patients, which later became St. Joseph's Hospital. In 1998, St. Joseph's Hospital was sold to Memorial Mission Hospital. The Sisters continue to operate urgent care centers in the Asheville area, under the name Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care.[42]

Mercy Health is an nonprofit Catholic healthcare organization in the Midwestern United States, and is headquartered in the suburban western St. Louis County suburb of Chesterfield, Missouri.

Healthcare systems

Healthcare systems sponsored by, co-sponsored by, or with historical ties to the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas include:[43]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Austin, Mary Stanislas. "Sisters of Mercy." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 October 2015.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Austin, Mary Stanislas. "Mary Francis Xavier Warde." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 30 January 2020Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ "Our History". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b Evelyn Bolster, RSM, 1964. The Sisters of Mercy in the Crimean War. Cork: The Mercier Press.
  5. ^ "Beginnings of the Order – Institute of Our Lady of Mercy". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  6. ^ Conley, Patrick T. "When Rhode Island Received Mercy". Online Review of Rhode Island History. Retrieved 17 September 2022.
  7. ^ Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Dickson, Mary Bernard". Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  8. ^ "The Story of the Sisters of Mercy, South Africa" (PDF). Sisters of Mercy. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  9. ^ "Mercy International Association". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  10. ^ "About us". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  11. ^ Registered Charity no. CHY 10078.
  12. ^ Arnstein, Walter L., Protestant Versus Catholic in Mid-Victorian England (London: University of Missouri Press, 1982), pp. 3-4 ISBN 978-0826203540
  13. ^ SAURIN, Susannah Mary; STAR, Mary Ann (1869). The Inner Life of the Hull Nunnery exposed ... being a full report of the great trial, Saurin v. Starr and another ... reprinted from the London Daily Telegraph. London, Manchester [printed. OCLC 503732394.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ "The 'great convent scandal' that transfixed Victorian England". Catholic Herald. 30 May 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  15. ^ McDonald, Henry; correspondent, Ireland (20 May 2009). "'Endemic' rape and abuse of Irish children in Catholic care, inquiry finds". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  16. ^ a b c "McAuley's legacy: Sisters of Mercy of the Americas celebrate 175 years in US". 20 December 2018. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  17. ^ "Clare Museum: Background". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  18. ^ "Sisters Of Mercy Sculpture Arthurs Row Ennis". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  19. ^ "PATRICK'S COLLEGE AUSTRALIA". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  20. ^ "History".
  21. ^ "Our History | St Joseph's Catholic Primary School | North Mackay". Catholic Education Diocese of Rockhampton.
  22. ^ Delany, Veronica. "Mary Cecilia Maher". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  23. ^ "Sisters of Mercy New Zealand | Auckland 1850 – A Voyage Made 'Only for God'". Archived from the original on 28 January 2019. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  24. ^ "Holy Cross School Papatoetoe". Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  25. ^ "St Mary's College | Together we will shape your future". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  26. ^ "Black Country History". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Mount Aloysius College - Private Liberal Arts School in Pennsylvania". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Mercyhurst University". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  29. ^ "School History - Little Flower School". Archived from the original on 28 January 2021. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  30. ^ "Our History". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  31. ^
  32. ^ Canevin, Regis. "Pittsburgh." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 July 2019Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  33. ^ ""The sisters of Mercy", The Catholic Light" (PDF). 29 January 2015. p. 4. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  34. ^ "Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  35. ^ "Brink, Carolyn. "Sisters of Mercy of the Americas", July 16, 2012". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  36. ^ "MESA". Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  37. ^ "Our History". Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan. Retrieved 4 June 2023.
  38. ^ "Mount Mercy Academy". Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  39. ^ "XXX" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 August 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  40. ^ Rutledge, Mike. "Mercy won't erect sculpture in Hamilton; historic marker instead". Journal-news. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  41. ^ "MISC: ORPHANAGES OF IOWA : Historical Directory" (TXT). Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  42. ^ "Asheville, Sisters of Mercy Uncover Pieces of Their History, Celebrate Mercy Week". Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  43. ^ "Catholic Healthcare: Mercy Hospitals & Other Ministries". Sisters of Mercy. Retrieved 16 October 2021.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sisters of Mercy". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Further reading