On the 11th April 1840 the following piece appeared in The Morning Register, a Dublin newspaper:
ERECTION OF A NEW CONVENT ‘We have much pleasure in announcing that a handsome convent is about to be erected in the immediate vicinity of Birmingham for the good Sisters of Charity (Mercy). The plans etc. of the building are by the highly gifted Pugin, and have been much admired by all who have seen them. The Convent is intended to receive twenty of the sisters, and also to accommodate thirty poor orphans whom they will take under their care. The chief expense will be borne by that noble-minded inhabitant of Birmingham John Hardman Esq. whose never failing liberality in the cause of charity and religion can only be rewarded in a better world. Four ladies are about to proceed immediately to Dublin, to go through their noviciate there and as soon as professed to return to Birmingham. We understand that Miss J Hardman, a daughter of the generous founder of the convent is one of the happy number.’
Juliana was accompanied by Anne Wood, Lucy Bond and Eliza Edwards. These four young English women began their formation under Catherine in 1840, and were professed on 19th August, 1841. Their religious names were: Sister M. Juliana (Juliana Hardman), Sister M. Xavier (Anne Wood), Sister M. Vincent (Lucy Bond), and Sister M. Cecilia (Eliza Edwards) Writing to Elizabeth Moore on 28th July 1840, about ‘the English postulants’ Catherine says,
‘They are all that is promising – every mark of real solid vocation – most edifying at all times, and at recreation the gayest of the gay. They seem so far to have corresponded very faithfully with the graces received, as each day there appears increased fervour and animation. A sixth has arrived since I came back. They renew my spirit greatly – fine creatures fit to adorn society coming forward joyfully to consecrate themselves to the service of the poor for Christ’s sake.’
After some delay the first four postulants were professed. On 19th August 1841 Catherine writes to Francis Warde: ‘The ceremony is over……We sail tomorrow.’
Again writing to Francis from Birmingham on 25th August, she says,
‘We were most happily circumstanced travelling; nine of us; Father Gaffney, who was our Guardian Angel and Mr O’H(anlon), and Dr Brown, Bishop of Kilmore, who was going to Leamington Spa joined us – which made up six in each (train) carriage, and we had not one stranger amongst us.’
The nine sisters were Catherine herself, Cecilia Marmion who was to act as temporary superior, the four newly professed and two novices, Magdalen Polding and Angela Borini who were to complete their novitiate in Birmingham. The other member of the party was a novice from Liverpool, Fanny (Mary Liguori) Gibson. As Catherine intended visiting Liverpool before returning to Dublin, she included Fanny as a travelling companion as a gesture to her grieving family who had just lost their eldest daughter. By 21st the party had been installed, and the orphans, until then lodged with John Hardman, had joined the community.
‘……..Got here about four o’clock on Saturday, had scarcely time to put on our guimps, etc., when we were summoned to the choir where the Right Rev. Dr Wiseman, in full pontificals, recited the Te Deum, said a few animating words and concluded with fervent prayers for the aid of Almighty God.’
Catherine was delighted with the character and design of the building. Writing to Mary Francis on 25th August 1841 she says: ‘The convent is beautiful and furnished for twenty sisters. Mr Pugin would not permit cloth of any kind in any of the rooms – rush chairs and oak tables – but all so admirable, so religious……We cannot miss the time here as the clock chymes the quarters. The convent bell weighs 140 pounds. It is hard work to ring it….. The ceiling of the choir is blue and gold, with the word – Mercy – in every type and character all over it.’
To an unknown recipient Catherine wrote from Birmingham (late August, 1841) that she did not admire ‘…his gilded figures of saints; they are very coarse representations, and by no means calculated to inspire devotion.’ At was at this time that Catherine must have realised how seriously ill she had become. She wrote to Sister Teresa Carton asking her to have an infirmary bed prepared for her use after her return to Dublin. This room, in which she died on 11th November 1841, is now preserved as ‘Catherine’s Room’ in Baggot Street.