In 1824, Catherine McAuley found herself a wealthy heiress. For years, she had observed in her native Ireland, the plight of single women and the poor. Now, with the finances, she began in earnest to address these needs; gradually others were attracted to assist. As many joined her ranks, though she had no intention to form a religious community, in 1841, it became increasingly necessary for organizational support. The rest is history! Within a few years, the Sisters were providing shelter and education for poor women and children throughout Ireland and England, coming to Little Rock Arkansas in 1851. Mount St. Mary Academy, the oldest continuously operated high school in Arkansas, was the Sister’s first focus, later responding to health and social needs. Through the years, the Sisters embraced the needs of ALL including the Civil War, where in Helena, wounded soldiers from both Union and Confederate armies received their care.
In Arkansas, over the last 165 years, the sheer number of lives the Sisters have touched is overwhelming! Currently there are seven Mercy Hospitals, a residential care facility, schools and direct services to the needy. The influence of “Mercy” in Arkansas and many parts of the United States has and continues to spread far and wide, driven by the Direction Statement of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas:
“Animated by the Gospel and Catherine McAuley’s passion for the poor, we, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, are impelled to commit our lives and resources to act in solidarity with the economically poor, especially women and children; Women seeking fullness of life and equality in church and society; One another as we embrace our multicultural and international reality”.