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Sisters continue the ministry of Visitation of the sick, the elderly and the bereaved in homes, hospitals and prisons. On a voluntary basis, some Sisters are involved in visiting families, particularly where there is disadvantage due to job loss, imprisonment and/or addiction.
Visitation of the sick was one of the main objectives of Catherine McAuley ever before founding a religious order. She wrote the following to Rev. Francis L’Estrange, ODC, 10 September 1828:
The objects which the charity at present embraces are daily education of hundreds of poor female children and instruction of young women who sleep in the House. Objects in view – superintendence of young women employed in the house, instructing and assisting the sick poor as may hereafter be approved.
She sought the approval for visitation of the sick in their homes and hospitals from Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, who granted her request 22 November 1828.
She founded The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy, 12 December 1831. The vows she took that day declared that one of the objectives of The Institute was the visitation of the sick poor.
Among her letters, particularly those written from Birr, January - 5 February 1841 she gives a vivid description of the visitation undertaken by the Sisters:
Sister Mary Rose & I walked one mile and half yesterday in all the snow to visit an unfortunate family.
In effect, visitation was not only to the sick poor but wherever there was any human need.
The annals of many convents throughout Ireland bear testimony to the custom of going on visitation to the poor and the sick of the locality shortly after the Sisters arrived. Sometimes the people did not understand them or their mission and rather disparagingly called them the ‘walking nuns’. Over the years that term became a compliment.
Read more about the history of the Sisters of Mercy