Mercyhurst Seminary/Preparatory School traces its heritage to the foundress of the Sister of Mercy, Catherine McAuley. Catherine was born in 1778 into a financially secure family. Her father James, a devout Catholic, taught the fundamentals of faith by his good example of reaching out to the poor. Catherine’s comfortable life changed drastically after the death of her parents. She was sent to live with a Protestant family where she experienced poverty firsthand. She was able to retain her Catholic beliefs through her own strong will and the role modeling of her father.
Catherine accepted a position to serve as nurse companion to Mrs. Catherine Callaghan. The Callaghans were Quakers and encouraged service to the poor. Catherine was free to practice her faith, thus fertilizing the seeds planted by her father. The Callaghans adopted Catherine as their daughter and eventually converted to Catholicism. Upon their death, she inherited the equivalent of $1,000,000 in today’s dollars.
Catherine continued her service to the needy while studying educational methods. She opened the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland in 1831 with the goals of spiritual advancement, and service to the poor, sick and uneducated. Two hundred girls were enrolled in the school its first year with 12 women living and working in the building. The women began to call each other “sister” and were encouraged to begin a religious order. Catherine began her novitiate at the age of 52. In 1831, three novices professed their vows, giving birth to the Sisters of Mercy.
Within the 10 years of beginning her order and her death, Catherine McAuley established a total of nine convents in Ireland and England. She died in 1841 and was laid to rest in the ground with the poor.