To comfort and animate
To “comfort” and to “animate” are among the most frequently used words in Catherine’s personal vocabulary. They are outgoing, life- giving and life-sustaining verbs which represent for her both the merciful action of God in our regard and two aspects of the merciful response which God asks of us in Christ Jesus. . . .  Catherine’s concept of comfort and consolation was clearly biblical, and intimately related to her theology of God’s mercy and to her Christology. For her, the comfort or consolation of God was the God-given realization that human lives are, despite all affliction and apparent devastation, finally sustained and redeemed by the merciful care of God manifested in Jesus Christ and in the action of those who follow him. Catherine therefore made her own the prophetic task announced by Deutero-Isaiah and irrevocably fulfilled in Jesus: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God; speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her, that her time of service is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from Yahweh’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1 – 2).
In the faces of cholera victims, destitute young girls, the dying poor, homeless unemployed women, and her own sick and dying companions, she came to know, as had Saint Paul, “the God of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are com- forted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3 – 4).
Just as “comfort” or “console” was a characteristic word in Catherine’s personal vocabulary, so was “animate,” the verb and its adjectival and noun forms. “Animation” was the word Catherine repeatedly used to designate the effect of God’s merciful action in human hearts and the power of Jesus’ example. To be animated by the Spirit of Christ was to manifest all the God-given and humanly sustained liveliness of the true spirit of the order: the spirit of mutual love and service of the poor. . . .  But the animation which she particularly sought and prayed for was a much deeper reality: the vivacious generosity of spirit made possible by the Spirit of God, giving her companions as “ardent desire to understand perfectly the obligations of religious life and to enter into the real spirit of their state” (Neumann, 319). While Catherine understood that all her associates were responsible, before God, for nurturing and encouraging the continuation of this God-given “animation,” she seems to have recognized that she personally had a special and explicit obligation to exemplify and promote this first quickening, by her own zeal. She was the “founder” of the Sisters of Mercy precisely in this vivifying sense: she recognized and named the animating gift of God; she continually gave life, spirit, and support to the fruit of that gift; she used every opportunity to cheer and invigorate her sisters; and she deliberately nurtured their God-given charity and zeal. In a word, she animated them — by her words, her example, her presence, her affection, and her own concrete commitment to the works of mercy.
The outstanding feature of Catherine McAuley’s behavior precisely as a founder was not that she was outstanding, though she was. Rather it was her animation of the zeal of her companions. Her collaborative, supportive mode of ecclesial leadership was, in many important respects, a new and feminine model of ecclesial administration. She was willing to work with and defer to what her associates brought to their common efforts, even when their talents or knowledge or courage might have seemed less than what was needed at the moment; she was willing to learn from them and with them as the decade unfolded; she suffered with them and took her place at their side, in poverty, uncertainty, sickness, and death; and she made herself, gradually and finally, completely dispensable to their work and to their future. In all this, her one unique and irreplaceable contribution as their founder was to animate them — that is, continually to remind them of the true spirit of what they were about, and to kindle, by every human means in her power, the God-given life and desire that was already in them.
‘Catherine wrote often about the “true spirit” of the order, the quintessential spirit of their common religious project. For her this vital spirit was the love of God, the fundamental life- reality which gave strength and purpose to all the human particulars of their life and work. Its source was God’s merciful blessing; its two external manifestations were their own union and charity and their mercifulness toward others.