The Legacy of Catherine. A reflection from Trent Dean, CEO of Mercy Connect

In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to speak directly with our newly appointed Team Leaders and support workers. During these informal sessions, I have taken the time to remind everyone of Mercy Connect’s purpose; that is ‘who we are’, ‘what we stand for’ and ‘what we do’.

A key focus within these discussions has been to explore our six Values (Compassion, Hospitality, Respect, Innovation, Teamwork and Accountability) and the incredible legacy of Catherine McAuley; a legacy that all Mercy Connect staff are responsible for carrying forward into the years ahead.

As we approach our two-hundredth year of Mercy, I have encouraged everyone to reflect upon ‘who’ Catherine McAuley was as an individual. Consider her personal attributes and how they helped establish this long-standing movement which is lived by the Sisters of Mercy.

It is very evident in the life of Catherine McAuley that she cultivated, and was able to maintain, union with God in all circumstances. It was the one thing that sustained her through all the ups and downs which form the pattern of all our lives. It was this intimacy with God which motivated all her actions; especially in her reaching out to those who were poor, or in any way deprived.

When asked what qualities might be necessary in one aspiring to join her in the Works of Mercy, her reply was, “… an ardent desire to be united to God and to serve the poor.” Catherine shared the virtues she desired her companions to cultivate, which were all part and parcel of who she was as a person. They were gifts and graces that so many of her early companions appreciated in her, and commented on in later years:

  • She was possessed of a remarkably cheerful disposition.
  • She had a particularly sweet expression of holiness that marked her entire being.
  • Her manner was dignified and reserved.
  • … such was her humility that self-seemed utterly ignored.
  • Her movements were quiet, her words few, her whole demeanour showing constant recollection of the presence of God.
  • She was a great enemy of the spirit of sadness.
  • … she gave each Sister a place in her heart, so generous, so full of humility so disengaged from this earth.
  • She would not allow a trace of loftiness or pretension, and had nothing of the kind herself.
  • Her voice possessed a charm never to be forgotten.

Catherine McAuley’s leadership was one that ‘gathered’ others around her. Not only did she inspire others, but she invited them to share her vision and contribute to it. Her earliest example was asking Anna Maria Doyle to oversee the construction of the house at Baggott Street. Together they dreamed of the possibilities it might afford the poor; and as each new companion arrived, they too, regardless of age, were invited to express their opinion.

To support our reflection into the life of Catherine McAuley, Srs Karon Donnellon and Elizabeth Dowling have provided us with this link to an excellent video resource, titled “In God Alone”.

Created in 2018, this video provides a brief, yet affirming, vision of who Catherine was and the challenges she faced during her life. When viewing this video, perhaps you might consider the following reflective questions:

  • What was your feeling having watched the video?
  • What in the film surprised you?
  • What struck you about Catherine’s leadership style in this viewing of the video
  • Catherine faced adversity, what lessons are there in her experience for us?

Clearly, Catherine’s heart was one that loved, grieved and cared; that owned, and acknowledged openly, her shortcomings; that trusted in the capabilities of others and enabled them to exercise them; a heart full of fun, laughter and wit, that radiated joy wherever she went.

Perhaps it was this latter gift which held it all together for her, and gave the capacity to overcome whatever difficulties and challenges came her way, as evidenced in her own advice to Elizabeth Moore:

“Don’t let crosses vex or tease – Try to meet all with peace and ease – Notice the faults of ever day – But always in a cheerful way – Be mild and sweet in all your ways – Now and again bestow some praise – Avoid all solemn declaration – All serious, close investigation – Turn what you can into a jest – And with few words dismiss the rest…”

Together we grow.

Trent Dean 
Chief Executive Officer