The Carlow faculty and staff arrived in Ireland and soon found meaning in their travels.
Our pilgrimage began in a Pittsburgh downpour that changed to Boston’s sunny skies. Before we knew it, our overnight flight landed us bleary-eyed in Dublin only to see Sister Sheila’s smiling face cheering us after we cleared customs.
“You are very welcome!” were the words that greeted us from the driver of the bus, words that we were to hear over and over again from the friendly Irish people we encountered throughout our travels. The driver took us to where it all began for anyone who knows of the Sisters of Mercy and Catherine McAuley—Baggot Street. The house that now is Mercy International Centre was the house that Catherine built when she started her ministry almost 200 years ago.
After a rest, we met in the Mercy International Room, a recently renovated room with a touch-screen that allowed us to view some films on the background of Catherine McAuley and the current global work of the Sisters of Mercy. Despite the modern technology, a panel in the room informed us that we were sitting in the location of the first Mercy classroom—the very place that led ultimately to the founding of Carlow. I think a collective shiver spread through us all as we realized this.
The house tour enveloped me in both the fortitude of history but also the present work at hand. We concluded in the courtyard, where Catherine’s tomb is located. At first I thought there was a mosaic on the grave, but Sister Sheila asked us to enter one at a time and take one of the pieces with us. On one side, each had a hand-painted yellow rose with “Mercy, the principal path” written around the edge. On the other side, each of us had a flower that represented a first name and an attribute. We held each other’s symbols, said a prayer, and then gave them to their owners. As a few drops of gentle Irish rain began to fall and we embraced these gifts, so we began to embrace the understanding of this pilgrimage.
More views of the gravesite of Catherine McAuley, photos by Lisa Sharfstein