Rhymes taken from Letters of Catherine McAuley

Published in “The Correspondence of Catherine McAuley 1827 -1841” by Sister M Angela Bolster (1989)

Early December 1838

Advice in rhyme from Catherine McAuley to Sister M Elizabeth Moore, Superioress in Limerick. She outlines the spiritual qualifications of the superior. ALim      

Don’t let crosses vex or tease;
try to meet all with peace and ease.
Notice the faults of every day –
but often in a playful way.
And when you seriously complain,
let it be known to give you pain.
Attend one thing at a time:
you’ve fifteen hours from 6 to 9.
Be mild and sweet in all your ways;
now and again bestow some praise.
Avoid all solemn declaration,
all serious, close investigation.
Turn what you can into a jest,
and with few words dismiss the rest.
Keep Patience ever at your side:
you’ll need it for a constant guide.
Show fond affection every day,
and above all, devoutly pray
that God may bless the charge He’s given,
and make of you their guide to Heaven.

12 May 1840

To the Sisters in Baggot Street: Catherine gives an account in rhyme of the circumstances of the Galway Foundation. Her spirituality shines through all; likewise her tremendous sense of humour. BST 

My dearest Sisters, kind and sweet,
though ‘tis not long until we meet
I’ll tell you all
that may, perhaps, amusement give:
but nothing that could pain or grieve.
Oh! Not at all.

In truth we have been greatly spared,
and very well so far have fared:
Not one cold frown.
Were this to last, we’d suffer loss,
since, independent of the Cross
there is no crown.

Stopped at Mount Carmel* on our way
and passed a most delightful day:
Sweet simple nuns.
Got lamb and salad for our dinner,
far too good for any sinner;
At tea, hot buns.

Got use of a Superior’s Cell,
and slept all night extremely well
on a soft pillow.
When lying in my nice bed
I thought how very soon this head
must wear a willow.

Next morning we had Mass in choir,
and to my very heart’s desire,
our own dear Father+.
Then we had breakfast, nice and neat –
tea and coffee, eggs and meat:
which e’er we’d rather.

At eight o’clock we started fair:
One car, one horse, one chaise and pair.
The car went first.
Not long we travelled ere a wheel
mounted with ill-tempered steel
completely burst.

Our youthful driver, naught dismayed:
A real Irish, fearless blade,
said: “Sorra fear.
The forge is just below the river –
we’ll get it mended, smart and cliver –
the place is near.”

When to the expected forge he came
and no assistance could obtain,
aloud he said:
“Oh! such a forge – no nails, no sledge:
Pat Lurgan wouldn’t take the Pledge –
he drank his bed.

Many a time I said to Pat,
"I’m but a gossoon, but for all that
the Pledge I took.”
But not an inch would Paddy go,
though the fine man was just below
that brought such luck =.

“I’ll mend the wheel now, I’ll be bail:
I’ve got a stone and fine long nail –
Yee’s needn’t fear.
I’ll give the horses meal and water;
That mare – I’m sorry sure I brought her –
she’s down lame near.”

The wheel well mended, horses fed,
first-rate for Galway now we sped;
all blithe and gay.
Dashing in true John Gilpin style,
the Post-boy calling every mile:

Peeped at our fixéd habitation,
then drove up to the Presentation
where all was love.
My dear old friend, sweet Sister Tighe ~
by every tender means did try
her joy to prove.

Next morning all our cares began:
Each proposing her own plan –
all different tastes.
What some approved, some deemed bad,
but all agreed that now we had
no time to waste.

The work is now progressing fast:
Not one waste hour we yet have passed;
and Sisters many.
We hear of Chrissie, Jane and Bess
all ready to put on the Dress.
We have got Nanny#.

Brigid, Márgarét and Mary,
who were of this poor world quite weary
though free from care.
And now with all their minds and heart,
of all its joys give up their part,
the Cross to bear.

Farewell, loved Sisters, old and new.
With joy I shall return to you
and count you o’er.
And if the number full I find
united in one heart and mind,
I’ll bless my store.

* Carmelite Convent, Loughrea
+ Father Redmon O’Hanlon, ODC
= This reference is to Father Theobald Matthew, Apostolate of Temperance
~ Fanny Tighe, an early associate in Baggot Street, who became impatient of initial delays and entered with the Presentation Sisters in Galway. She and Catherine remained on terms of affectionate friendship.
# Reference to the large influx of aspirants.


20 April 1837

Catherine McAuley to Sister M Vincent Hartnett, novice, Baggot Street, describing the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Carlow on 10 April. BST

I know you would like to hear all in rhyme
of our journey and how we have passed away time.
We were scarcely two miles-and-a-half on our way
when Sister Teresa got sick and remained so all day.
She was moaning and looking as white as a sheet –
almost ready to drop and lie down at our feet!
At about half-past two we got into the town,
and passed by our house – where we should be let down:
At last, half-a-mile taken out of our way,
through the midst of a crowd on the chief market day
we drove to the inn, but we could not get out –
nor indeed had our coach room to turn round about!

So there we remained, all set up for the show,
until a nice person whom we did not know,
had the first two of the horses unlinked from the coach,
so that nothing impeded our speedy approach
to a very neat convent, prepared very nice:
The priest and the bishop were there in a thrice
and conducted us on to our Sisters in love [Presentation Sisters]
who gave seventy-eight kisses their fondness to prove,
and a very nice dinner set out in good form –
all exceedingly nice and most pleasantly warm.

We had plenty of laughing and cheering and fun,
and music and dancing when dinner was done.
The bishop and good Father Andrew* at tea (tay)
and soon after nine, we all went away.
Since then we are settling and running about:
some staying at home, and others going out …
Write to me soon a poetical letter:
no matter how long – the more nonsense the better!
I hope before long to write you another,
and remain your fond and affectionate Mother.

Don’t let this be seen by any but your little party at home at the fireside …

*Fr Andrew Fitzgerald, OP, President, St Patrick’s College, Carlow.



Catherine McAuley to Sister M Ann Doyle. A letter in rhyme commiserating with Sister M Ann for having developed swollen knees during the cholera epidemic of that year. MGAD

Dear Sister Doyle, accept from me
for your poor suffering martyrs,
a Laurel Wreath to crown each knee
in place of former garters.

Since fatal Cholera appeared,
you’ve scarce been seen to stand:
nor danger to yourself e’er feared,
when death o’erspread the land.

While on your knees from bed to bed
you quickly moved about,
it did not enter in your head
that knees could e’er wear out!

You’ve hurt the marrow to the bone,
imploring aid and pity;
and every Cardinal in Rome
would say you saved the City.

Now that the story of your fame
in Annals may be seen:
we’ll give each wounded knee a name –


To Sister M Francis Warde, Carlow. Poetical letter in which Catherine gives her thoughts on the value of spirituality based friendship. BST No hitherto published.

Though absent, dear Sister,
I love you the same.
That title so tender,
remembrance doth claim.

Your name is oft spoken
when, kneeling alone,
I sue for high graces
at God’s Mercy throne.

Then I say not “Religion
to friendship is foe:
When the root is made healthy
the plant best doth grow”.

Oh, grieve not we’re parted,
since life is soon flown.
Let us think of securing
the next for our own.

This day of our mourning
will quickly be past;
while the day of rejoicing
forever will last. 



To Sister Potter, Limerick. New Year’s Advice in rhyme from Catherine McAuley; an advice totally permeated by spirituality and renewal. ALim

Dear Mary Teresa, Vincent de Paul,
Your names are so pretty – I give you them all.
I hope you don’t think I’ve been very remiss
in not answering all your nice rhyme!
I should have done so, indeed, long before this –
could I snatch but one hour from Old Time:
that Monarch who bears us away
in his chariot of measureless flight;
to whom we can never say ‘Nay’ –
but go with him from morning till night.

Stern foe to our beauty and youth,
which he steals as he passes along;
while he makes us acknowledge as truth
that Life is no more than a song.
Oh! what shall we do to defeat him,
while he is smiting us so?
Let us try by what art we can check him
and make him a deep-fallen foe!

Let us now with the New Year begin
to wrest from this tyrant his power;
not only avoiding all sin,
but piously passing each hour.
Our humours and pride we’ll subdue
and be mild and be meek as we can.
We will try to become quite a New –
and entirely cast off the Old Man.

The 38th year is now past;
its cares and its pleasures are gone.
The 39th may be our last –
since the last is so surely to come.
Let us beg for renewed animation
in discharge of our duties each day.
Let us smile under every privation
that religion has strewn in our way.

All coldness and choler we’ll smother,
and watchfully shun all dejection.
We will cordially love one another,
since that is the mark of election.


11 March 1841

To Sister M Cecilia Marmion convalescing in Birr: Letter keeping absent Mistress of Novices conversant with novitiate affairs. Catherine McAuley counsels against partiality, but does so gently and in rhyme. MGAD

No Dr now is to be seen;
no bottles, either blue or green;
no sofa, pillows, stool or screen.
The Dr called the day you went,
to help to get you through Lent.
A box of pills and bottle big –
enough to carry in the gig.
He’d like they should be send by post –
the carriage, sixteen pence at most.
But as no customer was found
he took them back quite safe and sound.

I’d wish to shield you next from love,
except what takes its flight above.
A Sister whose last tie is broken,
on this subject thus has spoken:
Oh, never, never shall my heart
with any creature share a part;
though it was said by ancient bard
that not to love was very hard.
And in truth we must confess –
not to be loved was nothing less.
But it was worse than all had proved,
to be deprived of what we loved.

Yet do you not know full well, my dear,
such love should never enter here?
By many pangs you’ve learned to know
it ever ends in pain and woe.
These things, my dear, do not forget:
Let none again e’er be your Pet.
And, lest an angry dart should strike –
in future, love them all alike.



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