Sisters tell Catherine McAuley school to change name after cutting religious ties

Last fall, longtime Catholic institution Catherine McAuley High School in Portland announced plans to cut ties with its religious founders and become an independent private girls’ school.

Now, the religious order that has long sponsored the school, the Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community, has told school officials they can’t name the school after their iconic founder, Catherine McAuley.

In a post on the school’s website today, the high school announced the change:

“The school is named for Catherine McAuley who established the Sisters of Mercy in December 1831,” the post reads, in part. “Because the Catherine McAuley name is so closely aligned and connected with the religious order, the Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community, based in Cumberland, Rhode Island, informed the school that neither ‘Catherine McAuley’ nor ‘McAuley’ would be available for the school’s use once their sponsorship of the school ends on June 30, 2016. Therefore, ‘Catherine McAuley’ and ‘McAuley’ cannot be viable options for the school moving forward.

“We are choosing to be excited about finding a new name and believe it will propel us toward the exciting future that awaits our school and students — all while upholding the same values that have so meaningfully shaped us over the years. We ask you to join us in enthusiastically embracing this process,” it continues.

The school announced it would begin seeking suggestions for a new name in the coming weeks from students and parents, alumnae, faculty, staff, trustees, donors and even local Sisters of Mercy.

(I don’t fall into any of those categories, but how about Sister Edward Mary Kelleher High School? It recognizes the school’s religious founding and pays homage to perhaps the most beloved and influential woman in the school’s history. Just a thought.)

School leaders say their athletics teams will continue to be known as the Lions and keep their green-and-gold color scheme.

To backtrack, school officials announced the decision to cut ties with the religious order and Catholic Church last October, saying in a letter released jointly with the Sisters of Mercy that “to realize their vision and mission, institutions must evolve with the times,” and that school would continue to encourage “students of all faiths … to have a spiritual life,” and would maintain its “foundation of ethical and moral values.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Bishop Robert Deeley released a lengthy statement at the time expressing disappointment with the decision, saying parents who still want their children to receive a Catholic education can move their students to Cheverus High School or St. Dominic Academy in Auburn.

“The academic, spiritual, and social benefits of a Catholic education are well-documented,” he said. “Students learn the ways of Christ, discovering how to joyfully live their lives with faith in the world.”

The school has been reacting to a shifting landscape for a number of years now. The Sisters more than a year ago reached a deal to sell their Stevens Avenue property, forcing school officials, to at least initially ponder relocation (they’ve since reportedly cemented plans to continue leasing the property for many years into the future).

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.