Irish influence in Cincinnati can best been seen in the area’s Catholic high schools. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, Mother of Mercy High School and McAuley High School strive to educate young women using the same principles and values of the Irish foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley. Seton High School and DePaul Christo Rey High School were also founded by a religious order with strong Irish ties, the Sisters of Charity. All of the schools teach students the core beliefs of faith, academic excellence, service, and leadership.
Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy
Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1778, Catherine McAuley dedicated her life to serving the women and children of Ireland. McAuley established the first House of Mercy on Dublin’s Baggot Street in 1827 with inheritance money from her caretakers. The house provided a place for homeless women and orphans to come and receive an education. Catherine McAuley was a firm believer in allowing women to be self-sufficient. In 1831, McAuley and two of her co-workers at the House of Mercy decided that a revision to the lay order was necessary. Mary Ann Doyle, Mary Elizabeth Hartley, and Catherine McAuley made their vows and thus established the Sisters of Mercy. Responding to the needs of Ireland, Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy established nine additional foundations all around Ireland. Between 1836 and 1841, houses in Tullamore, Charleville, Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Birr, Birmingham (in England), and Kingstown were founded. McAuley submitted herself to carrying “the Cross of Christ.” Pope Gregory XVI formally recognized the Sisters of Mercy as a religious institution in 1841. Catherine McAuley died on November 11, 1841 at the original House of Mercy on Baggot Street.
In 1843, Frances Warde brought the Sisters of Mercy to the United States. They quickly established schools and hospitals, continuing the mission and tradition of Catherine McAuley. Within several years, a rush of young Irish women joined the Sisters of Mercy in the United States, eager to begin their own ministries. Today, there are over 9,000 Sisters of Mercy in the United States. Their focus continues to be the empowerment of young women, prison ministry, immigration, healthcare, and affordable housing.
Worldwide, the Sisters of Mercy are in more than 46 countries, as close to Ireland as England and Scotland, and as far from Ireland as Papua New Guinea.
The Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati
“No work of charity can be more productive of good to society than the careful instruction of young women.” Catherine McAuley
In 1858, Mother Mary Teresa Maher led a group of ten Sisters of Mercy to Cincinnati from Kinsale, Ireland. In the Queen City, the Sisters of Mercy cared for the poor and established schools.
In 1915, the Sisters of Mercy founded what would become Mother of Mercy High School in Westwood. Mother of Mercy Villa was originally planned as a secondary school for young women, but it grew to include elementary students in its first years. The first permanent school building was constructed in 1923 and became known as Mother of Mercy Academy. The school acquired the name, Mother of Mercy High School, in 1943 at the request of Archbishop John T. McNicholas. In 1948, Mother of Mercy became a part of the North Central Association of Secondary Schools. In 1965, the elementary school was eliminated, and the enrollment of students reached 875 women. A new wing was added to the building, along with a gym. As the Age of Technology began to take hold, many renovations occurred. The science department, theater, school chapel, and computer labs were completely renovated near the mid-1990s. In 2007, the Tech Wing was added to the school. The wing continues to provide students with the latest technology through multiple computer labs and a TV studio.
As Mother of Mercy High School continued to change with the times, the school’s central mission remained the same: the careful instruction of young women in the spirit of Catherine McAuley. The school stated as its mission statement:
Mother of Mercy High School, a Catholic secondary school for young women sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, provides quality educational programs in a Christian community which promote life-long learning and strong, clear Mercy values; Faith, Compassion, Service, Leadership and Excellence. Empowered by these values and by the discovery of their individual giftedness, Mercy women are equipped to think critically, communicate effectively, embrace life and beauty, act with compassion and integrity, and assume roles of service and leadership in society.
Mother of Mercy High School also emphasized to current students the importance of the school’s Irish roots. Annually, the school sent a group of students to Ireland to visit the original House on Baggot Street. Every September 24, the school joined other Mercy institutions worldwide in celebrating Mercy Day. The day commemorates the founding of the original Mercy House on Baggot Street. Mercy Day includes a prayer service and numerous other celebratory activities throughout the day. Every November 11, the school recognized the life of Catherine McAuley on the day of her death by celebrating International Good Cup of Tea Day. The day is named after a quote of Catherine McAuley on her deathbed. She said to a fellow Sister of Mercy, “get a good cup of tea-I think the community room would be a good place-when I am gone & to comfort one another-but God will comfort them.” Tea has become a symbol of Mercy hospitality. Mother of Mercy also celebrated Foundations Day on December 12, the day the Sisters of Mercy were founded, by wearing t-shirts adorned with a name of one of the houses founded by Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland.
Forty-three years after the Sisters of Mercy founded Mother of Mercy High School in Westwood, the Sisters of Mercy were chosen to establish a new school on fifteen acres of donated land. In 1958, construction of McAuley High School in College Hill began. Two years later, the construction was completed, and the school opened its doors to its first freshmen class; McAuley High School added a new class for the next three years. As Mother of Mercy High School, McAuley High School seeks to educate young women with the vision of Catherine McAuley. The school states as its mission,
McAuley High School, a comprehensive Catholic school for young women, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas is committed to quality education and growth within a caring, Christ-centered community. Faithful to the Gospel and the charism, core values, and tradition of Mercy, McAuley’s essential activity is to create an environment designed to help each young woman develop her intellect, gifts, and talent.
McAuley also celebrates Mercy Day with all of the Mercy institutions around the world on September 24. McAuley High School keeps the strong vision of Catherine McAuley alive with the school’s “Women In” Program. The program seeks to educate young women with a rigorous curriculum to prepare them for careers in medicine, law, and engineering. At the heart of the program is Catherine McAuley’s belief that, “No work of charity can be more productive of good to society than the careful instruction of young women.” McAuley High School stays strongly connected to the Mercy community throughout the world by annually sending groups of students on service trips to Bosco Home for Boys in Jamaica, which is run by the Sisters of Mercy.
- For more about Catherine McAuley, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Mercy International community, visit: mercyworld.org
- For more about Mother of Mercy High School, visit: motherofmercy.org
- For more about McAuley High School, visit: mcauleyhs.net
In 2017, it was announced that Mother of Mercy High School would close, merging with McAuley High School, and Mercy students would continue at the McAuley campus.