Carol Anne Costa: A Progressive by Any Other Name…

Thursday, September 25, 2014


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Catherine McAuley

For those who do not know, yesterday was International Mercy Day. Religion aside, I cringe writing that and prefacing my comments, as Mother McAuley would be none too happy about keeping faith out of my larger point.

Mercy Day is special as it celebrates the founding of a house on the corner of the Baggot and Herbert Streets in Dublin, Ireland. The house dubbed the “Mercy House” was a wellspring for the dedication of service of the poor, sick, uneducated, imprisoned, and dying people of streets of the old Irish city. It was also the birthplace of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. 

Remembering the foundress of the house, and the order who is a personal heroine of mine and a very early “progressive” who's name was Catherine McAuley, is a clarion way to better understand the progressive movement and that being a "progressive" is a moniker of which to be extremely proud. Catherine McAuley is my model progressive and to emulate her attitude, work and courage is as progressive as it gets!

It is also important to honor Catherine this particular week, as an army of Mercy Sisters and Associates descended on New York City to march for climate change awareness.

It was 1827 when the passion of a woman named Catherine McAuley came to life. She is for me always a progressive, a liberal, and a woman, who in so many ways embodies the very drive and compassion of the modern day progressives, and it is not a bad word, it is a word that embraces forward thinking.

Catherine McAuley was a forward thinker. She used her inheritance to buy the house on Baggot Street and her actions have rippled through time, and carry on today. So for me, the title of progressive really is synonymous with Mercy and all of its works.

Not without struggles...

Her journey and the journey of likeminded women who joined in the mission were not without troubles and push back. She warned Mary Ann Doyle in a July 24, 1841 letter, “Do not fear offending anyone. Speak as your mind directs and always act with more courage when the “mammon of unrighteousness” is in question.” How eloquent but, it demonstrates she too had to fight off the big money influence in the quest for service of the poor; the battles of progressives echo through time. In her day, the drive to serve the poor, educate women, and enlist an army of similar women to do social work was way ahead of her time. Her actions live to this day and it is progressive thinking that saved, lives, enriched culture and served generations of people. Her legacy thrives in the ranks of the religious Sisters of Mercy. She wrote to de Sales White,
“The simplest and most practical lesson I know…is to resolve to be good today, but better tomorrow. Let us take one day only in hands, at a time, merely making a resolve for tomorrow, thus we may hope to get on taking short, careful steps, not great strides.”
It is in modern times her and her vision are remembered as the founding of the Religious Sisters of Mercy but at the time, Catherine who spent her inheritance and founded the house was doing much more than founding a religious order. It was her devotion to changing the lives of the poor and uneducated where a young Catherine McAuley lived the works of Mercy and for me is what we would call today a “progressive”. And, she enlisted an army of women who were back then social workers and they walked about Ireland and tended to those in need. She valued education, the power of prayer and was happy to disrupt the status quo.

What would Catherine do...
 She would most definitely be a nun on the bus. Sharing faith, mission and out like a cup of comfortable tea. She would be shoulder to shoulder with civil rights marchers. She would be lobbying for income equality. She would be holding a sign to raise climate change awareness. She would continue the works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Too often the word progressive is spoken from the right with rolling eyes and a level of disdain. Nothing could be more wrong. Hey, some of my best friends are progressives. If the goal is to be compassionate, smart, a steward of nature, a disrupter, a collaborator, a teacher, a nurse for the living and the dead and dying... I am all in. 

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Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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