1787 – Birth in Cork of Mary Aikenhead, founder of the Irish Sisters of Charity and St. Vincent’s Hospital Dublin

Mother Mary Frances Aikenhead (19 January 1787 – 22 July 1858) was born in Daunt’s Square off Grand Parade, Cork. She was the founder of the Roman Catholic religious order the Religious Sisters of Charity and of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.

Biography:

The daughter of David Aikenhead, a physician, member of the Anglican Church of Ireland, and Mary Stacpole, a Roman Catholic. She was baptised in the Anglican Communion on 4 April 1787. Mary was quite frail and probably considered to be asthmatic and it was recommended that she was fostered to a nanny called Mary Rourke who lived on higher ground on Eason’s Hill, Shandon, Cork. It is thought that Mary was secretly baptised a Catholic from this early age by Mary Rourke who was a devout Catholic. Her parents would visit every week until 1793 when her father decided he wanted her to rejoin the family in Daunt’s Square.. The Rourkes also joined the family and worked as servants to the family.

She was aged 15 when she was officially baptised a Roman Catholic on 6 June 1802, a time after the death of her father on 15 December 1801, who had himself been received into the Roman Catholic Church on his death-bed.

Accustomed as she was to an active life of charity, and feeling called to the religious life, she looked in vain for an order devoted to outside charitable work. She was chosen by Archbishop Murray, Bishop Coadjutor of Dublin, to carry out his plan of founding a congregation of the Sisters of Charity in Ireland, and in preparation for it made a novitiate of three years (1812-15) in the Convent of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin at Micklegate Bar, York, the rule of which corresponded most nearly to the ideas of the Archbishop. She there assumed the name she kept till death, Sister Mary Augustine.

On 1 September 1815, the first members of the new Order took their vows, Sister Mary Augustine being appointed Superior-General. The following sixteen years were filled with the arduous work of organising the community and extending its sphere of labor to every phase of charity, chiefly hospital and rescue work.

In 1831 overexertion and disease shattered Aikenhead’s health, leaving her an invalid. Her activity was unceasing, however, and she directed her sisters in their heroic work during the plague of 1832, placed them in charge of new institutions, and sent them on missions to France and Australia.

Mary Aikenhead was the foundress of St. Margaret’s Hospice, as it has been known since 1950, has changed its name to St. Margaret of Scotland Hospice.

She died in Dublin, aged 71, having left her Order in a flourishing condition, in charge of ten institutions, besides innumerable missions and branches of charitable work. She is interred in the cemetery attached to St. Mary Magdalen’s, Donnybrook.

Heritage centre:

The Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre details Mary’s life and the Religious Sisters of Charity. It is located at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harolds Cross in the building called Our Lady’s Mount. This is where Mary Aikenhead spent the remainder of her life. The building was later used to establish Our Lady’s Hospice in 1879.

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