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The Religious Sisters of Mercy (R.S.M.) are members of a religious institute of Catholic women founded in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland by Catherine McAuley (1778–1841). In 2003 the institute had about 11,000 members worldwide, organized into a number of independent congregations. They also started many schools around the globe.

Sisters of Mercy
Photo mcauley.jpg
Mother Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy
Abbreviation R.S.M
Formation 12 December 1831
Founded at Dublin, Ireland
Type Catholic religious order
Key people
Catherine McAuley
Website [1]




The Sisters of Mercy institute began when Catherine McAuley used an inherited fortune to build a "House of religion" in Dublin that provided educational, religious, and social services for poor women and children. The House aroused much local opposition, however, it being traditional for nuns rather than lay women to engage in this sort of activity. Eventually the church hierarchy agreed to the formation of a non-cloistered institute, and the sisters became known informally as the 'walking nuns' for their ability to care for the poor outside a convent. The house still sits today, as the Mercy International Centre.

Catherine McAuley and two associates made their novitiate with the Presentation Sisters. Now known as Sister Mary Catherine, she was appointed first superior of the new congregation, an office which she held for the remainder of her life. The rule and constitutions of the congregation were not completed until 1834, nor approved until 1835, yet they contained in substance only that which had been observed from the year 1827. The basis of the rule was that of St. Austin although circumstances required many alterations before its approval.[1]


Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) was the first place outside Dublin in which a house of the congregation was opened. In 1838 at the suggestion of Rev. Peter Butler of Bermondsey, some English ladies came to Ireland to serve a novitiate for the purpose of introducing the congregation into England. Upon their return, Mother M. Clare Moore was appointed the superior of the Bermondsey Convent.[1]

Crimean War, Turkey; Sisters of Charity at the New Hospital Wellcome V0015414

In May 1842, at the request of Bishop Fleming, a small colony of Sisters of Mercy crossed the Atlantic to found the congregation at St. John's, Newfoundland. The sisters arrived in Perth, Australia in 1846, and three years later, a band from Carlow arrived in New Zealand. In Sydney they opened schools and a servants' home.[2] Sisters from Limerick opened a house in Glasgow in 1849, and in 1868 the English community established a house in Guernsey.[1]

In 1992 the leaders of the various congregations created the Mercy International Association to foster collaboration and cooperation. The purpose of the association is to provide support and foster collaboration, organisation and inspiration for the ministries of the Sisters of Mercy and their associates.[3]

On December 12, 2011, 14 of the 17 independent congregations in Australia and Papua New Guinea of the Sisters of Mercy combined to form a congregation numbering some 920 sisters.[4]

Historical eventsEdit

The sisters were the first nurses to respond to the British Government request for nurses in the Crimea in 1853. They ran several hospitals during the war and provided nurses who were not under the control of Florence Nightingale. However their involvement was overshadowed by hers for political reasons.[5]

Vows and activitiesEdit

Sisters of Mercy is an international community of Roman Catholic women religious vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children. Members take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the evangelical counsels commonly vowed in religious life, and, in addition, vows of service. They continue to participate in the life of the surrounding community. In keeping with their mission of serving the poor and needy, many sisters engage in teaching, medical care, and community programs. The organization is active in lobbying and politics.


The Sisters of Mercy are constituted as religious and charitable organizations in a number of countries. Mercy International Association is a registered charity in the Republic of Ireland.[6] In the United Kingdom, The Union of the Sisters of Mercy of Great Britain is a registered charity, and in 2006–2007 had a gross income of £5.5 million.[7]


On May 20, 2009, the institute was condemned in an Irish government report known as the Ryan Report, the work of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Sisters of Mercy were named as the chief among the institutes under whose care girls "endured frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless ... personal and family denigration was widespread".[8]

In 2011, a monument was erected in Ennis at the site of the former industrial school 'in appreciation' of the Sisters of Mercy.[citation needed]

Schools founded or run by Sisters of MercyEdit




  • Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, St. John's, Newfoundland
  • St. Augustine’s Elementary School, St. John's, Newfoundland
  • St. Bride's College, St. John's, Newfoundland


Convent of Mercy, Templemore, County Tipperary


New ZealandEdit

In 1849 Bishop Pompallier visited St Leo's Convent in Carlow, Ireland, seeking sisters to emigrate; eight left from St Leo's, led by Mother Mary Cecilia. They travelled to New Zealand, learning Māori along the way, establishing the Sisters of Mercy in Auckland as the first female religious community in New Zealand in 1850.[9][10]

United KingdomEdit

United States of AmericaEdit

Secondary schoolsEdit

Colleges and universitiesEdit


Hospitals and healthcare workEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Austin, Mary Stanislas. "Sisters of Mercy." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 Oct. 2015
  2. ^ L. Hughes, The Sydney ‘House of Mercy’: The Mater Misericordiae Servants’ Home and Training School, 1891-1919, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 36 (2015), 61-76.
  3. ^ "Mercy World". Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  4. ^ "Foundation Chapter and Eucharist heralds new era for Sisters of Mercy". Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia – News Centre. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Registered Charity no. CHY 10078.
  7. ^ Charity Commission. The Union of the Sisters of Mercy of Great Britain, registered charity no. 288158. 
  8. ^ McDonald, Henry; correspondent, Ireland (20 May 2009). "'Endemic' rape and abuse of Irish children in Catholic care, inquiry finds". Retrieved 27 September 2017 – via 
  9. ^ Delany, Veronica. "Mary Cecilia Maher". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017. 
  10. ^ "Sisters of Mercy New Zealand | Auckland 1850 – A Voyage Made 'Only for God'". Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "Holy Cross School Papatoetoe". Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "St Edward's, Lisson Grove, Marylebone, London". Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  13. ^ "Black Country History". Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  14. ^ "Mount Mercy Academy". Retrieved 23 April 2014. 

Further readingEdit

  • Connolly, Mary Beth Fraser. Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community (Oxford University Press, 2014)

External linksEdit