A woman named Catherine McAuley (1778-1841) was dedicated to serving the sick, poor and uneducated in her Dublin hometown. With the inheritance from a former employer, she opened the House of Mercy on September 24, 1827, and thus founded the Sisters of Mercy. Catherine sought to provide solace to sick and needy families, to train young girls for employment and to instruct poor children.
The establishment of St. Mary’s Academy in 1851 was part of an effort by Arkansas’ first Catholic Bishop, Andrew Byrne, to support Catholic settlement in frontier Arkansas. Byrne traveled to Ireland and persuaded the Sisters of Mercy to send four sisters and five postulants to the newly formed Diocese of Little Rock. Upon arrival, the Sisters formed the nucleus of the little school that would eventually become Mount St. Mary Academy.