Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

By Mary Beth Fraser Connolly | Go to book overview

Notes

Introduction: “One Solid Comfort”

1. M. C. McAuley to Sister M. de Sales White, Bermondsey, December 20, 1840, in The Correspondence of Catherine McAuley, 1818–1841, ed. Mary C. Sullivan (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), 332.

2. Ibid.

3. This study uses the terms “sister” and “women religious” to identify members of the Sisters of Mercy and active communities like it. The more common term “nun” refers to women who profess solemn vows, live more contemplative lives, and are bound by rules of enclosure (which prohibit movement and interactions with the laity) or cloister (the area of a convent that is reserved for members of the community). These rules signify the limits or barriers between the religious and the laity, and most women religious prior to McAuley’s period were bound by these rules. The lack of enclosure was a fundamental element of the Sisters of Mercy’s culture.

4. Religious congregations’ constitutions must also be approved by the Vatican. At various times in the Chicago Mercys’ history (as well as other communities), the congregation had to revise or update their governing documents to adapt to the dictates of the institutional Church. This happened in the early 1920s and then again following the changes of Vatican II in the mid-1960s.

5. McAuley’s prayers and letters appear in books, in pamphlets, and on websites devoted to Mercy spirituality and ministry. For example, a simple Internet search for the first sentence of the quotation that opens this introduction results in nearly 300 websites that use it in some way. Most are websites owned and controlled by the Sisters of Mercy. For example, the West Midwest Community, of which the Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community is a part, includes this quotation on its page for the lay volunteer organization Mercy Volunteer Corps. Mercy High School in Burlingame, California includes these words (and others) on its pages devoted to Campus Ministry. The Mercy International Association, an affiliation of leaders of Mercy communities throughout the world, includes it with other quotes from McAuley on the association’s website.

6. At the same time that this new middle class emerged, a large number of Irish tied to traditional culture and language died or immigrated during the potato famine, which began in 1845 and continued through 1855. Some scholars

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