Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin in 1778. In 1824 she used her inheritance from an Irish couple she had served for twenty years to build a large House of Mercy where she and other lay women would shelter homeless women, reach out to the sick and dying and educate poor girls. The House on Baggot Street opened in 1827.
To give these efforts greater stability, Catherine and her co-workers founded a new religious congregation.On 12 December 1831, she and two others professed their vows as the first Sisters of Mercy. She died 10 years later, said to be from overwork. Her order started with just a few people and became one of the very biggest ever orders in the world. Her order was very prominent in the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale said, “My work here is nothing compared to the Irish Sisters of Mercy.”
Before her death on 11 November 1841, Catherine founded convents and works of mercy throughout Ireland and England. Her main focus was the education for poor Catholics at at time when education was mainly reserved for members of the established Church of Ireland.