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School History

In 1846, a small group of Mercy Sisters arrived in Chicago, led by Frances Warde, Catherine McAuley's closest friend. Within weeks they opened a "select school" that became St. Francis Xavier Academy for Females, the first school chartered in the city of Chicago. The course of study covered primary, secondary and collegiate levels. The first building was located on Wabash Avenue between Madison and Monroe Streets. When the Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed the original building, St. Francis Academy relocated to 29th and Wabash for a short time, then to a larger site at 49th and Cottage Grove in 1900. In the 1950's, the southwest side of Chicago needed a Catholic girls' school to serve a fast-growing population. In 1956 "the Academy" relocated once again. Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School and St. Xavier College (which is now a university) opened in the fall of 1956 to serve secondary and post secondary women students respectively. McAuley opened with 523 students, 300 of which were first year students. McAuley has continued to expand. Today approximately 1,000 young women and 120 faculty and staff members form the McAuley community.

Mother McAuley is accredited by The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI) AdvancED.  The school also is recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Catherine McAuley, our Foundress

Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin, Ireland, in September, 1778 to a prosperous Catholic family. Though her father, James McAuley, died in 1783 when Catherine was just five years old, his compassion for the poor, especially children and families who lived nearby, was a lifelong example for his eldest daughter.


Fifteen years after her father's death, Catherine was orphaned in 1798 and chose to live in the home of relatives, some of whom were non-Catholic and had little tolerance for her pious practices. In 1803 Catherine was invited to live in the home of William and Catherine Callaghan as a companion to Mrs. Callaghan. The Callaghans were childless and upon Mr. Callaghan's death in 1822, Catherine inherited their fortune: about £25,000, their estate, "furniture and plate." 

In 1824, Catherine used her inheritance to lease property on Baggot Street, a fashionable neighborhood in Dublin, for the purpose of building a large house for religious, educational and social services for women and children. Other women, intrigued by the house and the work for which it was intended, were attracted to Catherine and began to join her preparations for the ministry she planned.

On September 24, 1827, the Feast of our Lady of Mercy, the first residents came to live in the house they called the House of Mercy in honor of the day and two years later the Chapel was dedicated. Between late 1829 and 1830, after prayerful deliberation and consultation, Catherine and her associates agree to found a new religious congregation. Though this was not her original intention, Catherine began the founding of a new religious congregation of women dedicated to service to the poor. 

Catherine and two of her associates entered the Convent of the Presentation Sisters in Dublin on Sept. 8, 1830, to begin formal preparation for founding the Sisters of Mercy. Fifteen months later the trio pronounced vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and to persevere until death in "the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy." Thus the new community was founded on Dec. 12, 1831.

Catherine lived only ten years as a Sister of Mercy but in that time she established nine additional autonomous foundations in Ireland and England, and two branch houses near Dublin. When she died in 1841 there were 150 Sisters of Mercy. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters left Ireland at the invitation of bishops in Newfoundland, New Zealand, the United States, Argentina and Australia. 

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas now serve in North, Central and South America; the Caribbean; Guam and the Philippines, with more than approximately 4,000 sisters responding faithfully to the needs of the poor in these countries. 

For more information on Catherine McAuley, visit the Mercy World website.

Click here for information on efforts to canonize Catherine McAuley.


  • © Mother McAuley Liberal Arts H.S.
  • 3737 W. 99th Street
  • Chicago, IL 60655
  • Phone 773.881.6500
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