Catherine offered the same gracious empathy to stagecoach drivers, poor boys who carried her luggage, bishops who visited Baggot Street, and to the youngest, most inexperienced postulants. If one were to ask her to choose her name for the virtue implied in what we call “embracing cultural diversity” her one word would probably be courtesy. She would not mean superficial politeness, that may sometimes mask coldness and inhospitableness, but rather genuine respect for and generous consideration of others: the kind of thorough courtesy that creates a large space for the differences between ourselves and others, and that honors their otherness and welcomes it into a deeper unity. For Catherine such courtesy is the result of charity and humility: the consequence of taking to heart Jesus’ command, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34; Rule 8, in Sullivan, ed. 303), and of realizing that humility of mind and heart is “the surest mark of true servants of Christ” (Rule 9.1, in Sullivan, ed. 305).


Catherine’s embrace of cultural diversity

If I were to summarize in the broadest terms Catherine McAuley’s embrace of cultural diversity and her legacy of hospitality to strangers,

I would have to say that:

~ She did not narrowly define the love of God or the unity to which we and our neighbors in the world are called.

~ She did not misname differences or see cultural variations as obstacles to that unity.

~ She did not use adversarial language to describe these differences.

~ She did not cling to her own distinctiveness or to her own personal preferences or non-essential customs.

~ And she did not regard her friendship with God as something to be coveted or exploited for herself alone.


~ She emptied herself of the comfort of her former way of life.

~ She took the form of a servant in her human context.

~ She extended her affectionate embrace to otherness.

~ She opened her door to strangers.

~ She welcomed them.

~ She learned from those who were different and left them whole in their Godly difference.

~ She humbled herself before all human forms.

~ And she followed, as best she could, the example of Christ, who became obedient to God’s wide and merciful love of all humankind, even to the point of death, even death on a cross.

If we wish to sow the seeds of real hope in our world, I think Catherine McAuley would say: This is the way we must do it — one person at a time: one answering of the figurative doorbell, one opening of the figurative door, one embrace of the stranger, one welcoming of the other, one sharing of our bread and milk — one person at a time.