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A Providential Coincidence: Catherine McAuley and the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mercy

Since 1696, 24 September has marked the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mercy. It was on this day in 1827 that the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley, opened her first refuge for destitute children and women on Dublin’s Baggot Street. The providential timing of the opening gave the house, and later Catherine’s religious order, their names. The timing was remarked upon by Catherine and her cousin and colleague Anna Maria Doyle in the weeks leading up to the event:

 Anna Maria wished Catherine to set a date [to open Baggot Street] soon, so she did. She picked September 24, 1827. They later realised they had chosen the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mercy, and together agreed to place the infant establishment under the patronage of the Mother of God, with the title of ‘the most amiable of her attributes by which she most resembles Him whose mercies are above all His works.’ It would be a ‘House of Mercy’.1

While seemingly a coincidence, the timing of the opening on the Feast Day gave Catherine’s mission ‘a unique identity’ and encouraged Catherine to choose Mary as the order’s patron. The date would be observed and revered in Sisters of Mercy congregations around the world, and continues to be celebrated as Mercy Day today, 190 years after Baggot St was opened.

1 Mary C Sullivan, The Path of Mercy: The Life of Catherine McAuley Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012, 64. 

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