Nearly 200 years and the Atlantic Ocean separate 19th century Irish Catholic Catherine McAuley from those who now experience her vision of compassionate care at Mercy McAuley Center in Urbana.
Founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine would have approved – and maybe even rolled up her sleeves and pitched in – when McAuley Center staff members collaborated with the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany to produce its free monthly Community Meal April 20.
McAuley volunteers, headed by Director of Mission and Resident Services Tonya West, appeared at the church dining room in late afternoon with enough freshly-baked taco casserole to satisfy a platoon of healthy appetites.
Buttered corn, a plump banana, chocolate chip and/or oatmeal raisin cookies and cold beverages were also prepared and served by the McAuley staff. Second helpings were plentiful and popular.
West, her associates McAuley Admissions Coordinator and licensed social worker Amy Knotts and Director of Plant Operations for Mercy Hospital and McAuley Bob Jenkins, served the plates, kept food hot and accessible and the workspace orderly while chatting with guests and adding to the general conviviality.
Tasty, quantity cooking is a well-honed skill at McAuley. Two shifts of kitchen staff prepare and serve three healthy, appealing meals a day to hospital patients, McAuley residents and those on site receiving therapy or recovering from serious illness or surgery.
McAuley volunteers have participated in the Epiphany free meal program at least a half dozen times, thoughtfully keying the menus to the season or a pending holiday with special attention to entertaining presentations for children.
Episcopal clergy Rev. Nancy Hardin, who attends Epiphany, serves as Chaplain and a member of the Mission Team for both Mercy Hospital and McAuley Center. She has been a major player in establishing and continuing the Community Meal partnership.
Venerable Mother Catherine Elizabeth McAuley would be grateful that those who bear her name teamed up to extend Epiphany’s outreach and “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger and comfort the afflicted,” all among the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy to which she committed everything she had.
That was considerable, and completely unexpected. Orphaned at age 10, Catherine McAuley lived until young adulthood with Protestant relatives. When she was 25, she was hired to manage the household of the Callaghans, another more distant relative of her mother.
The Callaghans were Quakers; elderly and childless, but vastly wealthy with a large home in Dublin and an estate in a north Dublin suburb centered around the village of Coolock. The Quaker traditions of her employers notwithstanding, Catherine taught Catholic catechism to the household servants and some of the impoverished village children.
Mrs. Callaghan died in 1819. When her husband passed away four years later, Catherine McAuley found herself an extremely rich woman. Unbeknownst to her, the Callaghans had named her the sole legatee of their estate.
To Catherine her good fortune was a prayer answered. She immediately spent a substantial portion of the inheritance to build a large house in Dublin where she and other Catholic social workers could provide care and education for homeless women and children.
This they did, and, advised by the Archbishop of Dublin, she and two companions became the Sisters of Mercy. The Order has since extended McAuley’s vision of education, shelter and compassionate care, pastoral and social services to hundreds in Ireland, England and the United States.
Mercy McAuley Center in Urbana was opened in 1985 as an adjunct of Mercy Memorial Hospital. Both now operate under the auspices of Community Mercy Health Partners, based in Cincinnati.
Epiphany supervisor for the April meal was Vestry member Paddy Barr, with assistance from volunteer Sharon Applegate and general oversight by Junior Warden Ed Hardin. The next free meal at Epiphany, 230 Scioto St., is set for 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 18.
The Mechanicsburg Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, the other parish in the Northern Miami Valley Episcopal Cluster, also offers a free meal at 6 p.m. the last Wednesday of each month at the church, 56 S. Main St., Mechanicsburg.