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Catherine McAuley’s Legacy


First CMC Building

Halfway around the world, two centuries ago – the values of community, mercy, learning, and empowerment that guide CMC’s mission today, were inspired by one woman’s vision for a better world, and her courage to change her Dublin, Ireland community and inspire other women to serve their own corners of the world with compassion.

Catherine McAuley, for whom the Center is named, devoted her life to educating women and serving the vulnerable alongside other women in Dublin, Ireland. Today, the Catherine McAuley Center carries on her name and legacy by providing educational and supportive services to help our neighbors achieve greater stability and self-sufficiency.

Catherine McAuley (1778-1824)

Born in Dublin, Ireland in the late 1700’s, Catherine McAuley found her purpose in life at an early age, witnessing the devotion of her father who worked tirelessly to care for their less fortunate neighbors. While her childhood was spent in a loving, comfortable home with her mother, father, and two other siblings, Catherine had an early awareness of loss and just how quickly a safe and stable life can change. Her father died when she was five, and her mother followed a few years later, leaving Catherine without the means to provide for herself.

Catherine understood how it felt to be hungry and without a place to call home. She worked her way out of poverty, leaning on the values of kindness and community instilled by her parents. In her mid 20’s, Catherine became a caregiver and house manager for the estate of family friends, William and Catherine Callaghan, a wealthy, elderly couple with no children of their own. Catherine was soon loved as a daughter they never had.

With the Callaghans’ encouragement to follow her passion of caring for the poor, Catherine spent the next 20 years feeding local parishes and teaching children in her village. As the Callaghans grew older, they named Catherine McAuley as the sole heir to their estate upon their passing.

House of Mercy

Catherine used the million-dollar inheritance to pursue her lifelong dream of building a home to house, feed, and educate homeless women and children in her community. In 1827, despite pushback, Catherine and two other women opened the first House of Mercy on Baggot Street, right in the center of one of Dublin’s wealthiest areas. She inspired all –connecting the wealthy neighbors to a mission of helping those in need.

Catherine believed that education was the only way out of poverty, particularly for children. The House of Mercy began its journey by teaching young children of all ages. Next, Catherine expanded their work to care for those who were sick.

Seeing the impact of these efforts, Catherine McAuley formed the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, now an international and established religious organization, reaching all corners of the globe.

Sisters of Mercy

Now, 200 years later, the mission of mercy that Catherine envisioned continues to shine around the world. The Sisters of Mercy span the globe with thousands of men and women coming together, as partners in service.

Catherine’s compassion towards vulnerable populations and those living in poverty, is reflected in the Sisters of Mercy Critical Concerns, where the organization lists five issues of extreme importance – Earth, Immigration, Nonviolence, Racism, and Women. Inspired by their founder, The Sisters of Mercy “work passionately to reduce poverty, violence and racism as well as the widespread denial of human rights, the degradation of Earth, the continued oppression of women, the abuse of children, the mistreatment of immigrants and the lack of solidarity among people and nations.”

Catherine’s Comfortable Tea (1996-2012)

In 1996, the Catherine McAuley Center began partnering with Frontier Natural Co-Op of Norway, Iowa, to create Catherine’s Comfortable Tea, a side-business inspired by Catherine McAuley’s famous message to her fellow Sisters regarding the individuals for whom they cared: “Be sure to have a comfortable cup of tea for them when I am gone.”

The business sold decorative pins, jewelry, mugs, and bags of tea hand-packaged by “The Tea Ladies,” a group of volunteers remembered fondly for their lively conversation that filled the Center’s sun room during their tea-making sessions. With profits supporting the Center’s Adult Basic Education and Transitional Housing programs, Catherine’s Comfortable Tea embodied the hospitality and mercy that is at the heart of the Catherine McAuley Center.

The Catherine McAuley Center discontinued Catherine’s Comfortable Tea in 2012 to focus more energy and resources on meeting the growing need for CMC services, though tea remains an important symbol, frequently enjoyed by guests who gather in CMC’s welcoming lobby today.