Aikenhead, Mary

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Foundress of the Irish Sisters of Charity; b. Cork, Ireland, Jan. 19, 1787; d. Dublin, July 22, 1858. Because of her early attraction toward the service of the poor, Daniel murray, then coadjutor bishop of Dublin and later archbishop there, persuaded her to form a religious congregation and received authorization from the Holy See to establish it. Mary and one associate then spent a three-year noviceship at the Bar Convent of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, York, England. The Irish sisters of charity began their institutional existence when the two women returned to the North William Street Orphanage, their new home in Dublin, and took the usual three vows of religion, plus a fourth vow of dedication to the poor. The sisters cared for the orphans, set up a day school, and visited neighboring poor families. Steady growth in numbers of recruits and of houses enabled the congregation to teach religion in parochial schools and to staff additional free schools and a Magdalen refuge. In 1834 the sisters opened St. Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, the first Catholic hospital in Ireland. In 1838 they became the first religious women to labor in Australia. For the last 27 years of her life, Mother Aiken-head directed her institute while prostrate on her bed with chronic spinal trouble. The decree introducing her cause of beatification in Rome was issued in 1921. Since her death the congregation has spread to England, Scotland, the United States, and Africa.

Bibliography: m. b. butler, A Candle Was Lit: The Life of Mother Mary Aikenhead (Dublin 1953). Acta Apostolicae Sedis 13 (1921) 23438.

[e. mcdermott]