The purpose of this pilgrimage is to focus on the life and mission of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in the early nineteenth century. Yesterday we listened to historians who helped us put together the many threads of the story, coming to an understanding of the woman and the religious and social context of Ireland. We have heard too about her style of leadership and had an opportunity to reflect on our own commitment to the mission of our organisations in the Mercy tradition. It has been a most interesting and challenging time!
I have also been interested in how others of Catherine’s time also responded to the situation of poverty and suffering, as well as why governments did not. One can see through all these stories the theories, attitudes and practices that have come through in Australian society and in particular our family. These of course range from simple things like having cups of tea, and hospitality generally to the struggle for democracy and the rights of workers in the union movement! I would love to be able to spend more time researching the histories of the families to which I belong – all of them Irish.
Catherine herself was quite an amazing woman, but she was not alone! There were many amazing women carrying out these works of charity and mercy to relieve horrendous conditions. It does challenge us to consider how we would respond to those conditions, and more importantly how we respond to the conditions of our own time and place.
I have been interested to read in greater depth about Catherine and others who undertook this work with the poor, when they put themselves at such great personal risk of disease and death, of criticism and social ostracism as well as financial hardship.