What will the day bring? Will we be on time? Will we be in groups? What time will we be home? Many thoughts and more flew in and out of our heads like the swallows flying in and out of an old shed. The day began as the sun rose and cast its light across the sky. We marvelled and felt in our bones – this day is going to be a great day, a day of surprises, a God filled day. And so it was.
The Mercy Associates were celebrating their 20th year of being. The congregation gave us a gift of a trip to Baggot Street to imbibe at first hand the cradle of Mercy Sisters and of Catherine McAuley in her own setting, in her own house. This was sacred ground, a chance to experience what it was to be where it all began, where a young woman fulfilled her wish and desire to give her all to the service of the poor. We began to appreciate this opportunity the congregation gave us to walk in Catherine’s footsteps, to renew our own calling and to be reminded of her motto of leaving all in the hands of Divine Providence.
When we arrived we were welcomed by the ‘core’ group of the Mercy Associates. Their warm greetings were like the rising sun we saw earlier and we relaxed in the warmth of it.
No time was lost as we were guided upstairs to what was once a classroom for the many poor youngsters that wandered the streets around Baggot Street and its surrounds.
We were greeted by Catherine Keenan who gave us a rundown of the day. Mary McGrath then led us in prayer which really helped us relax and breathe in the atmosphere in the silence of our own hearts. Anne Reid, who is an expert on Catherine McAuley, spoke about her as if she was standing there in our midst. She gave us a run down on the house that is a hundred and ninety years old.
A very solemn ritual took place there. Two associates from each group brought up a special candle and a copy of the story of each group to a special place laid out for them.
Anne Reid dressed as Catherine
We were settling down and taking in all that was said and ritualised for us when the door opened and in walked Catherine herself. We were sitting on solid chairs and glad we were as otherwise many of us would have fainted on the spot. There she was, clothed in the old habit of serge, train, belt and rosary beads, and not a smile on her face. We recovered our composure and then the whole story was told as Anne Reid posed as Catherine McAuley. She answered many questions put to her and was a dignified and gracious as the Catherine we felt we knew. The morning flew and before we knew it we were told lunch would be served at one o’clock, time to stroll around and to reflect on what we heard and saw. There was time to visit the room in which Catherine died. The actual floor on which she walked was intact with a shine that reminded me of my young days when the shine on floors was highlighted by elbow grease! Being in that room was very special and a powerful silence fell on those who came in and out of the room. Each one had her own thoughts as she stood there praying, reflecting and remembering.
The thought that came to me was Catherine’s words to her sisters as she lay dying, “when I am gone sisters make yourselves a nice cup of tea”. With that we glided down to enjoy the hospitality of the staff in M.I.A.
It was a very pleasant meal and the chatter was of a morning well spent, a lot learned, a lot on which to reflect and at the same time space for prayer, marvelling and grateful to those who made it happen. All were moved by the ritual at Catherine’s grave. Anne Reid spoke again of Catherine and of the forty-nine sisters who were buried in the grounds. A beautiful bouquet was laid on Catherine’s grave by Patricia Hayes and prayers were said aloud and in silence for the many needs of ourselves, the world we live in and the Mercy Congregation and its associates. Fr. Piaris Jackson, S.J. celebrated Mass, the participation of the group was tangible. The singing and music played by the three Mercy Sisters was outstanding. People felt the joy of it, the solidarity of the group and the emotion of a group that had been blest. The Mass was very solemn, inclusive and a feeling that God indeed cared for each of us with an everlasting love. The musicians played a big part in reflecting in our music our feelings and thoughts of a day well spent. We somehow learned many lessons that day and Catherine’s life and words made a fresh impact on us her struggling sisters, Sr. Helena O’Donoghue who spearheaded the founding of the Mercy Associates twenty years ago spoke and Sr. Mary Margaret Costigan gave thanks to each one who made the day possible, and to us, followers of Catherine McAuley.
Our day was over and what a day. Sr. Peggy Collins, Provincial Leader paid us the compliment of being present with us for the day. We thank her and her team for subsidising the day for us, to Sally Mounsey, Mary Margaret, Patricia Greed, Anne Reid, Mary McGrath, Catherine Keenan and Maura Walsh for organising the event, to Anne Reid and the Baggot Street Staff, to all musicians, Fr. Jackson and all for a memorable day, a day to be remembered. We had indeed been on sacred ground and in a sacred space.
Mercy O’Dea rsm
South Central Province