The problems of 19th century Ireland were not that different from those facing the world today. The poor needed adequate living conditions, healthcare, and education. Women especially needed encouragement and support to make a better life for themselves and their families.
When Catherine McAuley unexpectedly inherited a fortune at age 50, she spent it all to build a house in Dublin for homeless and abused women. Her radical action was a result of her lifelong love of God and desire to live as a follower of Jesus.
The House of Mercy opened on September 24, 1827. Soon, other women joined Catherine´s small community, which lived and prayed together and provided training for residents of the House of Mercy. Catherine and her associates also visited the sick in their homes and in hospitals.
Local Roman Catholic bishops, impressed by Catherine´s work, encouraged her to establish a religious order in the Church, that would ensure that the Mercy mission would continue after her death.
After studying for a year with another order, Catherine McAuley took vows as the first Sister of Mercy on December 12, 1831 and the new congregation was born. Many women were attracted to join Catherine. At the time of her death in 1841, there were 14 Mercy foundations in Ireland and England. Within another 15 years, the congregation spread overseas to Newfoundland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and South America.
Today, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas comprise one of eight Mercy institutes or federations in the world; others are in Ireland, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and the Philippines, with a total membership of more than 15,000 women.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community arrived in Fort Lauderdale in July 1959. Holy Cross Hospital continues to serve in the spirit of the Sisters of Mercy.