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Catherine McAuley, heiress, foundress, feminist

What does an orphanage in Leicester, a school for Down's Syndrome kids on Chester Street in Worcester and the Boston Celtics have in common? As far removed a connection as it may be, it’s a fact that these three random local entities owe all or part of their origins to Ireland.

Okay, so the Celtics were stretch.

But the first two; McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys in Leicester and Mercy Centre in Worcester, as well as several other Worcester schools and organizations all share a common foundress in Irish born Catherine McAuley.

Catherine McAuley was born into a Catholic family in Ireland in 1778 during an era when Catholic children suffered under the oppression of the governing Protestant authorities.

By chance, as a young woman, McAuley was adopted into a wealthy family. It was through this connection that she became a wealthy heiress. With her sudden and substantial wealth, she purchased property and built a house in an elitist neighborhood in Dublin. There, to the chagrin of the neighbors, this single and single-minded woman proceeded to open her doors to under-privileged Catholic women and children for the purpose of education.

Her house soon became known as the school on Baggot Street.

With ethereal poise and charisma-- a.k.a. faith, McAuley focused on her cause and, before long, had garnered the admiration of those initial naysayers, hence drawing the attention of the local archbishop who envied her growing popularity among the parishioners in that affluent neighborhood.

Naturally, the hierarchy began to pressure her to operate on their terms.

In order to keep her mission from being suppressed by the powers that governed the local Church, Ms. McAuley offered to “give” the school she’d established to the archbishop. Further, she asked that she be allowed to continue to govern her school as a new religious community under the authority of the Church.
But to the men who governed the Church, she seemed dangerously independent and her ideas were frustratingly enigmatic. Nevertheless, the archbishop offered her a compromise; he would let her found her own religious order and keep her school only after she had submitted to the initiation rigors of an established convent.

Without losing sight of her primary cause-- the education of the young, Catherine McAuley would gracefully comply.

So, she joined a convent; a millionaire at age 52.

After spending two years as a novice in an old religious order, McAuley was allowed to found her own new one; the Sisters of Mercy. Her sisters would go on to found more schools than any other single religious order in the world.
One wonders if McAuley knew the story of the Mexican nun from a century before, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Ideas or comments? Contact Patricia at mamaclak@gmail.com

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