Reflection of M. Francis Creedon at the bedside of the dying Catherine McAuley, November 11, 1841
My dearest Mother is dying. Her breathing is so laboured and she seems so pale. As I sit beside her now my thoughts are sad but they are ones of gratitude and concern. I am so privileged to have this time with her.
It was only a couple of months ago that Mother Catherine went to Birmingham to establish a Mercy convent. Little did we know that this would be her last foundation. She was not well when she left us and she wrote Sister Aloysius and told her of how ill she was. She wrote to us (September 6) at Baggot Street telling us that she would soon return and asking that we set up a bed for her where there would be more air and space. She was very specific about what she wanted. I had observed Mother Catherine these past months and knew deep within that she was very ill. When she arrived back here I knew for sure that our dear mother was dying.
These couple of years have been a time of great joy for me, and now, so much sorrow. I have grown so fond of Mother Catherine and of the Sisters of Mercy. I have lived here at the House of Mercy since July, 1839 and have learned much about being a Sister of Mercy and about the works of mercy. I have learned from Catherine McAuley, from her teaching and her example. What sensitivity she showed to the poor and how she works to ensure that women and girls are protected and educated, made fit for this world and for heaven too. When I return to Newfoundland I hope that I will be able to carry on the good works in the manner I have learned during my time here at Baggot Street. At this moment I feel so uncertain about what might be my future and the future of the foundation in Newfoundland. I am just professed. It was understood that I would establish a Convent of Mercy in St. John’s – this has been agreed between Mother Catherine and Bishop Fleming. I wonder what might happen to that plan after Mother Catherine dies. I had hoped that Newfoundland might be the next foundation after Birmingham and that Mother Catherine would come with me. But I know now, that is not to be.
Around 7:00a.m. Mother Catherine said that she would like to see each of the sisters. Despite her weakness, her shortness of breath, and her pain, she admonished and consoled us. She was entrusting to us her legacy, her legacy of mercy and the preservation of peace and union among us. She encouraged me to trust in God’s providence. She was sorry that she could not cross the ocean to establish the new foundation in Newfoundland but that in heaven she would be asking God’s blessing on the mission and on me. She asked that I extend her good wishes to “her bishop”(Bishop Fleming). She told me that she has great confidence in my ability to carry out the works of Mercy in St. John’s and that I will have a good guardian and father in Bishop Fleming. She was confident that Mother di Pazzi would come with me or send strong sisters to help me establish the convent – she reminded me that we would have to take our tea without milk, and we had a little chuckle. Her words were very encouraging to me. I felt very peaceful and could place my trust in God in whatever the future might hold. She held my hands and asked God’s blessing for me.
I sit quietly beside her now as she rests and regains her breath and strength. She has spoken to each of us individually, to each of us sisters in the house. Such is her motherly concern for all her “children” as she calls us.
About half past eight we all gathered in Mother Catherine’s room. The Holy Sacrifice was offered and we continued praying with her and around her. She wanted to be anointed again in preparation for her death and she asked that the sisters wear their church cloaks. She had words for the priests and her doctor, thanking them and seeking their continuing care of the House of Mercy and its inhabitants. She spoke to her relatives who came to see her. Around 5:00 p.m. she asked for the blessed candle to be placed in her hands. As weak as she was she thought about us, that we must be fatigued and that we had no supper. She whispered to the sister in charge of the kitchen to make sure that she had a comfortable cup of tea for us when she was gone. Mother Catherine continued praying and joining in the prayers for the dying. At one point Mother Elizabeth was not sure that Mother Catherine could hear the prayers and when she raised her voice our Mother suggested that there was no need to do so as she could hear distinctly. A few minutes before eight she gave all of us, present and absent, a blessing and then calmly closed her eyes, to open them no more.
Catherine McAuley, our mother and foundress of the Sisters of Mercy was dead. How sad our hearts are in the quiet and in the sacredness of these moments. May her spirit and her charism reside in us. May she bless us now from her place in God’s realm. I especially need her presence with me as the Sisters of Mercy grow and spread Mercy to a land across the ocean and far from here. Mother Catherine McAuley, pray for me.
Reference: The Life of Catherine McAuley by a Member of the Order of Mercy. New York: P.J. Kennedy, 1896.