Nestled under redwoods at the north entrance of the state Capitol, a bronze sculpture of three women commemorates the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy into the Sacramento area. For more than 150 years, they have brought hope and assistance to those in need. Their founder the Venerable Catherine McAuley founded the order in Dublin in the early 19th century.
Mother McAuley was not a stranger to receiving assistance from others. Her father died when she was young and her family was dependent on the goodwill of others throughout her young life. After working for a wealthy couple for more than 20 years, she inherited their estate and wealth. She immediately pursued her dream of opening a house for women and children in Dublin.
Poverty was rampant throughout 19th century Ireland, especially among Catholics that accounted for 80 percent of the population. Even before the Great Famine (1845-1852) work was scarce and the government offered little assistance. Mother McAuley was a pioneer who realized the value of education and made it central to her program. She hoped her home would give women the help they desperately needed to overcome the cycle of poverty.
Her first home opened in 1824 on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mercy. Along with two other women, this home was used to shelter and educate women and girls. It was her desire that the members should combine silence and prayer with the active labors of a Sister of Charity. It was not a religious order at first, but due to concerns over stability and continuity, they eventually formed an official order.
Guided by the principles of mercy, the newly founded order was rooted in four core values: spirituality, community, service and social justice. They were focused on responding to the unmet needs, through direct service as well as seeking ways to change unjust systems.
Once in the United States, the order flourished and now has schools, housing services, advocacy efforts in social justice and hospitals throughout the country. In California, Mercy Hospitals are scattered throughout the state and are known for their excellent care. In 1897, the Sisters opened their first hospital, Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento.
The Sisters came to the Sacramento area via steamboat. They arrived after the Gold Rush to a town teeming with neglected children and homeless residents. Just like their founder, they had a vision and had the courage to spearhead new projects, offering hope and healing to those in need.
The Capitol sits on land that was once owned by the Sisters. They had plans for a school in the heart of the city, but sold the land to the state. Although they predominately worked in Northern California, by 1911 they had expanded their mission to Southern California where they continued to build hospitals.
Although times have changed since Mother McAuley opened her first Mercy House, there has never been a time when the works of mercy are not needed. During this Year of Mercy, now more than ever, we see these works in action and thankful for the Sisters of Mercy that continue to heed these works as they help people most in need.
"The spiritual and corporal works of mercy which draw religious from a life of contemplation, so far from separating them from the love of God, unite them more closely to Him and render them more valuable in His holy service." Mother Catherine McAuley