Our Mission

MOTHER McAULEY LIBERAL ARTS HIGH SCHOOL is a Catholic educational community committed to providing a quality college-preparatory education for young women. In the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy and their foundress, Catherine McAuley, we prepare students to live in a complex, dynamic society by teaching them to think critically, communicate effectively, respond compassionately to the needs of their community and assume roles of Christian leadership. In partnership with parents, we empower young women to acknowledge their giftedness and to make decisions with a well-developed moral conscience. We foster an appreciation of the diversity of the global community and a quest for knowledge and excellence as lifelong goals.

Our 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 830 young women and 111 faculty and staff members form the McAuley community.

Mother McAuley is accredited by Cognia, is recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education, and is a sponsored ministry of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and is a member of Mercy Education.

In our Winter 2021 issue of our alumnae magazine, Inscape, we celebrated a major milestone - 175 years of Mercy education in Chicago! - and took a look back on the history of Mother McAuley; our predecessor, St. Xavier Academy; and the work of the incredible work of the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago since they arrived in 1846. Scroll through the timeline below to learn more!


1846 Protege and confidant of Catherine McAuley, Mother Mary Frances Xavier Warde leads a group of 5 Sisters to the Midwest Diocese of Chicago.

Saint Francis Xavier Academy for Women opens for 10 boarders and 40 day students.


1846 Mother Mary Agatha O’Brien was the foundress of the Chicago Mercy Community.


1852 Mercy Hospital opens as the first chartered hospital in Chicago. Upon the closing of Mercy Hospital this year (2021), the Sisters of Mercy have graciously donated a tabernacle, sacristy, portrait and bust of Catherine McAuley to our school (Mother McAuley). These items will now be on permanent display within our school to remind our students of the rich history behind Mercy Hospital and inspire them to walk in mercy everyday.


1865 After moving to two different locations, the Third Saint Xavier Academy was erected after the Civil War, hailed as the most up to date institution of its kind in the city.


1866 The first class graduates from the new Saint Xavier school at 35th and Wabash.


1871 On the eve of their silver Jubilee, the Sisters of Mercy watch 25 years of labor and financial security reduced to rubble during the Great Chicago Fire.


1884 After rebuilding, Latin and Physics are introduced into the curriculum.


1893 The school receives the World’s Columbian Exposition award for “Excellence in drawing, watercolors and painting and classic needlework and artwork.”


1894 Mastery of the arts is considered an essential part of a cultured young woman’s education.


1901 Academy enrollment necessitates plans to move the school to the intersection of 49th and Cottage Grove, resulting in a 10 acre campus.


1912 A charter is issued to incorporate the Saint Xavier College for Women and includes courses in Liberal Arts, Pre-Medical Study, and Music-Art Expression.


1920 McAuley’s long standing graduation tradition of long, white dresses, full length gloves and red roses was originated.


1921 Accredited by Illinois and City of Chicago examining boards, Saint Xavier identifies as an all girls college preparatory school emphasizing the liberal arts approach to education and logic.


1943 Leadership skills are encouraged and teach students that the principles of Catholicism were “not merely a creed, but a culture.”


1948 A new two-story building houses the Science Department with two large laboratories, a physics lab, and a dark room. A spacious gymnasium occupies the second floor.


1950 Plans to relocate south of the city begin to emerge as Sr. Mary Huberta McCarthy, RSM; Morgan Murphy Sr.; Sargent Shriver; and Sr. Mary Josetta form the development team.


1956 Now at the southside campus, under the direction of Sr. Mary Ignace Garvey, RSM, the name of the school is changed to Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in honor of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.


1960 The first class who attended all 4 years graduates at McAuley.


1965 Sr. Mary Huberta McCarthy leads the way as McAuley breaks ground on the Fine Arts Wing; the centerpiece is a 900-seat air conditioned auditorium.


1974 Little School, an onsite lab preschool, provides seniors the opportunity to earn college credit while getting hands-ons teaching experience.


1977 McAuley joins the Illinois High School Association under the direction of Sr. Ruth Mutchler, RSM. The volleyball team wins its 1st State Championship.


1981 Instituted by Sr. Cathleen Cahill, RSM to increase awareness of the Mercy charism, the first annual Mercy Day celebration is held in September.


1983 The annual calendar drive launches in 1983 and provides funds to create 2 computer science centers.


1987 McAuley wins first Illinois State Water Polo Championship as the only Catholic girls school in the league.


1991 The Basketball team brings home their 1st state title.


1992 Seniors participate in Kairos, an off-campus weekend retreat focusing on self reflection.


1993 Sr. Corinne Raven, RSM initiates the “Expanding for Excellence” campaign. Mighty Mac Basketball teams compete against Queen of Peace in a standing room only crowd at the opening game.


1994 The National Honor Society sponsors the annual Fall Festival to benefit Misericordia, featuring a performance by the Misericordia Heartbreakers.


2000 Students competing at the State level are driven through the halls in a cart ride on the “Vincemobile” through crowds of cheering fans.


2002 Under the direction of Sr. Rose Wiorek, RSM, McAuley enters the new century on the cutting edge of technology with computers available to all McAuley students.

Acknowledging academic diversity among students, the Learning Resource Center is developed to support college preparatory learning.


2012 McAuley constructs two state-of-the-art LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).


2013 McAuley is the first school on Chicago’s south side to have a 1:1 iPad program.


2017 Nursing class taught by a Saint Xavier University professor is added to the list of College Credit Courses offered to McAuley students.


2017 The Student Lounge is renovated to enhance collaborative learning.


2018 In the second phase of the Future Ready campaign, C-Wing is updated to be tech-friendly and communal with access to virtual learning environments.


2020-21 Our faculty, staff, and students pivoted to virtual learning due to the pandemic with great success.

Catherine McAuley, our Founder

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.