Catherine McAuley (29 September 1778 – 11 November 1841) was an Irish religious sister who founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831. The women's congregation has always been associated with teaching, especially in Ireland, where the sisters taught Catholics (and at times Protestants) at a time when education was mainly reserved for members of the established Church of Ireland.
Catherine Elizabeth McAuley was born at Stormestown House in Dublin. Her father died in 1783 when she was five and her mother died in 1798. Catherine and her brother James moved to live with Protestant relatives. In 1803, McAuley became the household manager and companion of distant relatives of her mother, the Callghans, an elderly, childless, and wealthy Quaker couple, at their home in Dublin and then at their estate in Coolock. For 20 years she gave catechetical instruction to the household servants and the poor village children. Catherine Callaghan died in 1819. When Mr Callaghan died in 1822, McAuley became the sole residuary legatee of their estate.
McAuley inherited a considerable fortune and chose to use it to build a house where she and other compassionate women could take in homeless women and children to provide care and education for them. A location was selected at the junction of lower Baggot and Herbert Streets, Dublin, and in June 1824, the cornerstone was laid by the Rev. Dr Blake. As it was being refurbished, she studied current educational methods in preparation for her new endeavour. On the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, 24 September 1827, the new institution for destitute women, orphans, and schools for the poor was opened and McAuley, with two companions, undertook its management.
Catherine McAuley died of tuberculosis on 11 November 1841 at Baggot Street, at the age of sixty-three. At the time of her death there were 100 Sisters of Mercy in ten foundations. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters left Ireland to establish new foundations on the east and west coasts of the United States, in Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.
Total worldwide vowed membership is about 10,000. The Mercy International Centre in Dublin, Ireland, is the international "home" of the Sisters of Mercy worldwide.
In 1978, the cause for the beatification of the Servant of God Catherine McAuley was opened by Pope Paul VI. In 1990, upon recognition of her heroic virtues, Pope John Paul II declared her Venerable.