By Sister María Luisa Vera
While preparing to write a short reflection on Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Mercy connection to December 12, I remembered that somewhere in my files I had a reflection on the very same topic already written, in November 1990, by Sister Mary Hermenia Muldrey. Sister Hermenia was a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and a Sister of Mercy for 63 years. She was a teacher, librarian, researcher and writer. I am aware that Sister Hermenia also authored This Is the Day, a history of the Sisters of Mercy in New Orleans and the Gulf South and Abounding in Mercy, the story of Mother Austin Carroll. She died October 11, 2010.
Thirty-one years ago, Sister Mary Hermenia sent me a reflection called, “Catherine McAuley’s Mercies from Ireland and the Piadosa Madre of the Americas.” Although she never said it, I truly believe she wanted me to do something with it—perhaps even get it published. Regrettably, I never pursued it until now. A reflection from me could not come close to bringing to light what Sister Mary Hermenia gives us.
In her name, then, and better late than never, I offer you this gift that I know for certain was not meant for me alone.
Catherine McAuley’s Mercies from Ireland and the Piadosa Madre of the Americas
By Sister M. Hermenia Muldrey
Catherine McAuley was half a world away from Mexico City when she wished to have her Dublin reception as a Mercy novice on December 8, 1830. Archbishop Daniel Murray delayed her reception ceremony until December 9, which happened to be the date that opened the 300th year since the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego. One year later in Dublin, Catherine hoped to profess her religious vows on December 8, but once again the Archbishop postponed the date, this time to December 12. Coincidence, or not, this date marked the tercentenary of that momentous day on which Mary sent her messenger Juan to Archbishop Zumarraga with roses and her own portrait in his poncho. Thus, Catherine’s steps toward religious consecration and the inauguration of the Mercy Institute had been twice transferred by circumstances to dates connect with Our Lady of Guadalupe in Latin America.
While the Spaniards in Mexico titled this apparition the “Immaculate Conception,” the sensitivity of Juan Diego and the native Americans recognized Our Lady as their “Piadosa Madre,” their own affectionate “Madre Mia.” Conversations between Mary and Juan are full of references to mercy and compassion. Our Lady told Juan that she was his “merciful mother” and that she wished to have a chapel built there in order to “manifest her mercy to all the people.” While the fire and brimstone of the Spanish conquistadors could not turn the Indigenous peoples away from their own beliefs, the gentle, caring Piadosa Madre led them into the arms of her Son by the hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps it was Catherine McAuley’s own loving compassion for the poor and dispossessed that caught the eye of Mary and led so many of their anniversaries to coincide. Of course, Sisters of Mercy have often selected December 12 as an appropriate day for a dedication or some other Mercy ceremony. In the Americas, however, some notable events have coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with no apparent help from the sisters.
Furthermore, connections between Juan Diego’s Piadosa Madre and Catherine’s Mercies do not end on November 11, 1841, when she joined the Mercy Community already in eternity. Instead, Our Lady of Guadalupe seems to have kept a watchful eye and showered loving protection upon Catherine’s followers who journeyed to the Americas.
The first group to cross the Atlantic Ocean did so within one year of the 300th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for Mary Frances Creedon and her Mercies from Baggot Street reached St. John’s, Newfoundland, on June 3, 1842. Later, as more Irish Mercies landed on both East and West Coasts of the United States and in the Caribbean, the events and dates of their arrivals just happened to coincide with those of Juan’s Piadosa Madre. In 1843, for instance, Mother Warde and her contingent from Carlow sailed into New York Harbor on December 10, remained on shipboard overnight, then went to the convent of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. There, the Mercies heard their first Mass in the United States on December 12. In 1854, Baptist Russell and her Kinsale community sailed into San Francisco Bay on December 8 and remained aboard ship until the next day when they found shelter with the Sisters of Charity. There, the Mercies were canonically established in the diocese by Archbishop Alemany on exactly December 12. A century ago this year, a third example occurred, when Mercy missionaries reached the American tropics in 1890. This Mercy band from Bermondsey sailed along the coast of Jamaica into Kingston Bay and landed at Alpha on December 12, precisely. Did Juan’s Piadosa Madre lend a hand, or did the wind and sea currents control each of these arrivals or events?
Finally, there is Mary’s messenger to consider. When Our Lady of Guadalupe needed a dependable carrier service to bring her identification to the episcopal palace, Juan Diego must have been carefully selected. There was no need for UPS and any other overnight mail service because Juan Diego furnished same-day delivery, even when he had to wait for hours before he could give the roses in his tilma to Archbishop Zumarraga. Mercies might now wonder if Juan’s Piadosa Madre sent them the news of the declaration of Catherine McAuley’s heroic virtue, for she was declared Venerable on the very day Juan Diego was beatified—April 9, 1990. It came to the Americas along with the news of the holiness of her sturdy and faithful messenger. In a way, Juan brought the news about Catherine to her Mercies.
The concern of Mary for the dispossessed natives of colonial America is similar to Catherine’s own ideals and hopes for the poor of her era. Perhaps it was this similarity of concern and compassion that effected the shared dates in Dublin, New York and San Francisco, and from St. John’s on Newfoundland down to tropical Kingston on the island of Jamaica. Or perhaps it is just a matter of coincidence that there are so many connections between the anniversaries of Juan’s Piadosa Madre and Catherine’s Sisters of Mercy.