Our Lady of Mercy, Sisters of

Our Lady of Mercy, Sisters of is the name of a modern Roman Catholic religious order founded in Dublin by Miss Catharine McAuley in 1830. Miss McAuley was born in Gormanstown Castle, near Dublin, Sept. 29, 1787, and died Nov. 13, 1841. Her parents. who were Roman Catholics, died when she was a child, and she was brought up without any definite religious faith. But she became a Roman Catholic, and devoted herself and her large fortune to the service of the poor. She induced several ladies to join her, purchased a house in Dublin, and there, in 1827, opened an asylum for destitute young women and a free school for poor children. Soon afterwards she and her companions underwent a regular novitiate in a convent of Presentation nuns, and in 1831 assumed there the habit and took the vows of the new order. The rules received the sanction of the archbishop of Dublin Jan. 23, 1834; but subsequently in the rule of St. Augustine, modified to suit the active duties of the sisterhood, was adopted by them, approved by Gregory XVI in 1835, and formally confirmed by him in 1840. As thus organized the Sisters of Mercy have in view, besides other charities, the visitation of the sick and prisoners, the instruction of poor girls, and the protection of virtuous women in distress. Wherever their means permit, they founda "houses of mercy," in which destitute girls of good character are cared for until employment can be found for them. The sisterhood is divided into two classes, choir sisters and lay sisters. The former are employed about the ordinary objects of the order, and the latter about the domestic avocations of the convent, and such other duties as may be assigned to them. Candidates for membership of either class undergo a preliminary "postulancy" for six months; at the end of that time they assume the white veil and become novices. The novitiate lasts two years. The vows, which are taken for life, bind the members to poverty, chastity, obedience, and the service of the poor, sick, and ignorant. The sisters are subject to the bishops, and have no general superior. In the United States the communities of each diocese form one body, governed by a common superior, who is elected by the professed choir sisters and confirmed by the bishop. The habit of the order is a black robe with long loose sleeves, a white coif, and a white or black veil. In the streets a bonnet of black crape is worn instead of the coif and veil.

The Sisters of Mercy have spread considerably over Great Britain and her colonies. The first American house was established at St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1842, and the first in the United States at Pittsburgh in 1843, where they now have their mother-house and novitiate for that diocese, also a hospital, house of mercy, and orphan asylum. Their academies in Pennsylvania are at Latrobe. Loretto, Harrisburg, Lebanon (?), and Philadelphia; they number about 200 sisters, novices, and postulants in their thirteen or fourteen convents and houses in that state; and teach in the diocese of Pittsburgh alone 5000 children. In the diocese of Hartford, which embraces Connecticut and Rhode Island, they have 128 sisters, novices, postulants, and lay-sisters in nine convents and houses (Providence, two, South Providence, Newport, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, R. I.; Hartford, New Haven, Conn., two), with seven academies under their charge, besides free and parochial schools, two orphan asylums at Hartford and one at South Providence, the whole containing apparently 6395 pupils. Since Feb. 17, 1868, the Hamilton School, one of the public schools in New Haven, has been conducted entirely by them, eleven now teaching nearly 500 children (probably included in the above number of pupils), at a cost to the city of $5600, according to the report for the year ending Sept. 1, 1870 (see chap. xxiv). The Sisters of Mercy now number probably over 900 in their eighty or more convents and houses in twenty-one different states (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, California), with thirty-nine academies (some of them on a large scale, as at Manchester, N. H., Providence, R. I., Vicksburg, Miss., etc.), twelve orphan asylums, and over fifty other schools (free, parish, or industrial), under their charge, containing in all probably from 20,000 to 25,000 pupils. They have hospitals at Worcester, Albany, Pittsburgh (had 2680 patients in one year), Chicago (cost $75,000), Louisville, Omaha, and San Francisco; houses of mercy in New York, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco; a house of providence in Chicago; a Magdalen asylum apparently near San Francisco. Those in Georgia are said in the Catholic "Directory" to be a branch of an order founded (in 1829) by the late bishop England of Charleston, "where the nuns renew the vows of religion every year, and live under a rule approved by the bishop." There are five convents in the state, at Savannah, Augusta, Macon, Columbus, and Atlanta, containing somewhat over thirty sisters., Whether the thirty or forty sisters in North and South Carolina belong to the same branch or not is not stated. See Barnum, Hist. of Romanism, p. 304, 305.

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