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The plight of the catholic population residing in Limerick’s Old Town in the 1830’s was unimaginably horrific, so wretched and miserable was their lot. Extreme poverty with its attendant afflictions of hunger and disease had left the people destitute.
Most Reverend Dr. John Ryan, Bishop of Limerick, was painfully aware of the sufferings of his flock and was duly concerned for them. He had heard of the wonderful work that Catherine McAuley’s sisters were doing for the poor in Dublin and, therefore, in 1837, he besought Catherine to establish a foundation in Limerick. Catherine promised that when she would have sisters to send she would do so.
Bishop Ryan was persistent in his request, however, and continued to apprise Catherine of the situation in his diocese. Haunted by the terrifying descriptions she had been hearing from him of the poor in Limerick, Catherine eventually felt she had no choice but to accede to his request. She decided to make a foundation in Limerick as early as possible in 1838. The person who would lead the sisters there would be the young and energetic Sr. Elizabeth Moore.
On the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, 24 September, 1838, Catherine McAuley, and her foundation party of five sisters, including Sr. Elizabeth Moore, arrived at “St. Peter’s Cell”, the Poor Clare Convent in Limerick. They were welcomed by two surviving Poor Clare sisters who had remained on in Limerick after the departure of their companions eight years previously and who soon were affiliated to the Mercy Congregation. Henceforth, the convent would be called "St. Mary’s".
There were initial anxieties regarding the Limerick foundation. Catherine and her companions soon experienced the extent of the poverty, destitution, despair and universal misery that surrounded them and questioned their ability to survive. A further cause of anxiety was the obvious change in personality that had occurred in Mother Elizabeth Moore, the superioress. The once staunch, brave and energetic Elizabeth seemed to have become a prey to nervousness and timidity and did not seem at all equal to the role of superioress.
Notwithstanding these anxieties, the beginnings in Limerick were hopeful. Postulants began to arrive immediately and the works of Mercy got off to a quick start. Satisfied that the work of Mercy in Limerick was progressing favourably, Catherine returned to Dublin on December 9th.
On Catherine’s departure, Elizabeth had to face up to the fact that, now, she alone was first in command. With implicit faith in God’s enabling power she successfully continued the works already begun and courageously embarked on new initiatives and expanded the congregation by establishing branch houses in Limerick city and county as well as foundations in other counties in Ireland and in Scotland.
Click here to download the complete history of the Limerick Mercy Foundation and to read about the pioneering sisters.
From Limerick to:
1844 Kinsale, Co Cork
1844 Killarney, Co Kerry
1845 Mallow, Co. Cork
1849 Glasgow, Scotland
1850 Mount St Vincent, Limerick
1850 Newcastlewest, Co Limerick
1850 Rathkeale, Co. Limerick
1853 Roscommon, Co Roscommon
1854 Ennis, Co. Clare
1854 Adare, Co. Limerick
1858 Edinburgh, Scotland
1861 City Home & Hospital, Limerick
1864 Tipperary, Co Tipperary Link here to list of places below founded from Tipperary
1898 Mary Immaculate College of Education, South Circular Road, Limerick
1930 Convent of the Sacred Heart, Westbourne, Limerick
1952 Convent of the Immaculate Heart, Summerville, Limerick
1953 Stella Maris, Foynes, Co. Limerick
1962 Cocoa Beach, Florida, US