A visit to Baggot Street

The Mercy International Centre, Dublin


“If it weren’t for this place, ladies,” the 11 other girls and I heard, “you wouldn’t be where you are today.” The kindly sister smiled at us as we took in our surroundings; minutes prior we had been on a yellow bus careening haphazardly through Dublin — we now found ourselves standing on a stoop outside a bright red door on Baggot Street. We had arrived at the Mercy International Centre, former home of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. As students from Our Lady of Mercy Academy, it was a great honor to visit where our beloved school rooted its mission and, in general terms, had its beginning.

Every summer the rising seniors and immediate graduates of Mercy are given the opportunity to travel to various countries in Europe. The July 2009 trip was to Ireland for nine spectacular days. After spending an entire night on an airplane, we landed in Dublin a little before 10 a.m., Ireland time. We spent the day touring around the city, even taking a train in the evening to the nearby, amazingly beautiful coastal town Dún Laoghaire. The remainder of our trip was spent touring the southern part of the breathtaking country, as we stayed in Killarney and Galway, then back to Dublin, with numerous stops in between.

We arrived at the Mercy International Centre in Dublin a little after lunchtime, and were immediately greeted by a cheerfully red door and an eye-catching statue of Catherine McAuley in a compassionate pose, caring for one of Dublin’s poor women. We were ushered into the original 1800s tile floor sitting area after being greeted, once again, by many kindly sisters. Our tour of the centre had just begun, and I was already awed. We were sitting, standing, walking through the very places where Catherine herself had been, and where the mission of the Sisters of Mercy had begun. As we learned about Catherine’s background, I couldn’t help but feel thankful that she had made the decisions she did — to help the poor women and children, to start a school, to become a sister and to start her own religious order. Catherine’s love of God, her innate compassion, and determination to put that feeling into action had changed the course of the world — literally, as we learned in the international room. One wall of that room is an enormous map of the world that shows the spread of Catherine’s legacy. The Sisters of Mercy have spread throughout the world, from parts of Africa, to Australia and New Zealand, Asia, South America, North America.

At the other end of the room, an extremely large collection of seemingly arbitrary objects were arranged on shelves. I soon found out the objects were Holy Water containers given by every country where the Sisters of Mercy have convents.

As we descended the spiral stairs and walked through the doors to the courtyard and garden, I caught sight of a very small, enclosed structure set in the middle. “A mausoleum?” I guessed out loud, simply because it was the first thing I thought of when I looked at it. Sister Helen Lyons, a Sister of Mercy herself, one of Mercy’s principals and a chaperone on the trip, nodded.
“It’s where Catherine McAuley is buried,” she said.

I immediately felt more reverent, and I’m sure the other girls did as well, based solely on the change in the atmosphere.

We were shown a yellow rose bush, whose fragrant blooms are known as Catherine McAuley roses. This type of special flower was developed in Australia to honor her memory. There was a curious looking man-made channel of water that we inquired about as well; it came from a small waterfall at the far end of the courtyard and emptied into a grate in the ground. The water, we found out, was Holy Water sent in from various countries that flowed the length of the garden and was sent back to the waterfall when it reached the end. I was in awe. Once again. To say it was a spiritual place would be an understatement.

Since our forlorn departure from the Emerald Isle and our return to normalcy on Long Island, I can certainly speak for all the girls when I say our trip was absolutely incredible. We saw so much, did so much, and were given the opportunity of a lifetime to visit Ireland. The Mercy International Centre gave all of us, myself included, a deeper understanding of Catherine McAuley’s mission. That acknowledgment and gratitude is imperative for our future and understanding of our place in the world — for as Mercy girls, we truly would not be where we are today without the little house on Baggot Street and the loving compassion of one single Irish woman in the 1800s.

KATHLEEN WICKS is a senior at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, Syosset.