Fifty years ago, when ‘women’s liberation’ was just becoming a household phrase my mother made a comment which no doubt other wise women had made before: the first liberated women were nuns. One of those choice paradoxes found in the treasure chest of our faith is that commitment, rather than being limiting, is liberating. And, vowed religious sisters who commit and consecrate themselves to God are liberated women.
Catherine McAuley is a stellar example. A native of Dublin, Ireland, she was orphaned in her teen years and familiar with poverty. A kind couple took her under wing and treated her as a daughter. On their death, they bequeathed to Catherine a million dollar inheritance which she, stunned by the overwhelming needs of the poor, used to found her first House of Mercy on Baggot Street. From this center of compassion, Catherine extended her ministry into nearby slums, an unheard of initiative as women religious were expected to be cloistered. Soon other women inspired by her example joined her in her work with orphans, the sick and the illiterate. This was in 1827. In a matter of a few years, 14 Houses of Mercy were established across Ireland and England and the Sisters of Mercy. Today, there are dozens of congregations of Sisters of Mercy comprising thousands of women serving schools, hospitals and community programs in 47 countries (www.mercyworld.org).
In 1990, Pope John Paul II declared Catherine McAuley a Venerable Servant of God. Two years later the leaders of the Sisters of Mercy congregations founded the Mercy International Association (MIA), an organization that addresses humanitarian issues and coordinates global initiatives. Its status as a Non-Governmental Organization member of the United Nations facilitates MIA’s advocacy. Through its U.N. seat, MIA takes positions on key issues of global concern and has identified two principal areas: a) sustainable development and poverty eradication, and b) ending human trafficking.
To experience how the work of these liberated women liberates the lives of others you might want to view the two brief and very moving stories on the video clip that accompanies this piece. These exemplify how Sisters of Mercy – Sisters of the liberated Catherine McAuley – free others from the bondages of poverty and in doing so advance the Kingdom for all of us.