Cusack, Margaret Anna

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Also known as Mother Clare and/or "the Nun of Kenmare," b. Dublin, Ireland, May 6, 1829, d. Lemington, England, June 5, 1899. Born to Anglo-Irish parents, Sarah Stoney and Dr. Samuel Cusack, and was christened in the Anglican Church of Ireland. She received an excellent education and showed talent in creative writing, languages and music. After her parents separated she moved with her mother to Exeter, England. There she became involved in the oxford movement and joined and Anglican religious community, founded by Dr. Edward pusey, and while a member worked with the poor. After five years, she left, disillusioned with internal conflicts in the convent.

Margaret Anna was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1858 and was confirmed by Cardinal wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, who encouraged her to devote her life to Catholic literature. A year later she entered the Irish poor clare Community in Newry, Co. Down and was given the name Sister Mary Francis Clare. In October 1861 she was among a group of Sisters sent to form a new foundation in Kenmare, Co. Kerry. With the approval of the Bishop of Kerry she was put in charge of the convent's Kenmare Publications. Her remarkable literary output included local histories, lives of saints, biographies, books and pamphlets on social issues, and letters to the press. While doing all she could to feed the hungry she also campaigned vigorously, through her writings, against the abuses of absentee landlords, lack of education for the poor and a legal system which oppressed a whole section of society, especially women. Income from her books was distributed throughout Ireland especially in Co. Kerry.

Cusack moved to Knock, Co. Mayo in 1881 with the intent of expanding the ministry of the Poor Clares. She started an industrial school for young women and evening classes for land workers. After two years in Knock, she believed she was called by God to found a new religious Order. Conflict in Knock led her to seek support in England, and it was there in the diocese of Edward G. Bagshawe, Bishop of Nottingham, that the sisters of st. Joseph of Peace were founded. The purpose of the new foundation was to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work" as well as "devotion to ameliorating the conditions of the homes of the poor." Mother Francis Clare had a private audience with Pope leo xiii in May 1884. She wrote to the young community, "His Holiness is pleased on this occasion to congratulate me on the favor which God had granted me in being Foundress of a new religious order." Two houses were established in 1884: a school in Grimsby and mother house and novitiate in Nottingham.

In November 1884 Mother Clare came to the United States to raise money to support the young community's works in England and to explore the possibility of establishing a home for young women immigrants there. Rebuffed in the archdiocese of New York, she was welcomed by Bishop Winard Michael wigger of Newark, New Jersey in 1885. A house was established in downtown Jersey City in 1885 and the following year property atop the Palisades in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, was acquired as a summer vacation place for working women.

In 1887, she became embroiled in a political controversy surrounding the mayoral candidacy of the social reformer Henry George. Bishop Wigger judged that she had made an unwarranted and scandalous attack on Archbishop Corrigan of New York. Bishop Wigger would not allow the Sisters of Peace to admit more women into the congregation and denied permission for novices to pronounce vows. Physically and emotionally exhausted, she decided in 1888 to withdraw from the congregation she founded in order to save it. She wrote to the community, July 1888, "You must make a decided and determined position and save the Order for God and the Church, and I may say for me, though I say this only because it will have weight with you the interests of the Order are very dear to me and I want these interests provided for and protected first." Shortly after writing her autobiography, The Nun of Kenmare (1889), she returned to England and to her Anglican roots. In later years she tried to keep in touch with the Sisters and showed a loving concern for them. She died June 5, 1899, and is buried in that portion of the cemetery reserved for the Church of England in Lemington, England.

Bibliography: i. eagar, Margaret Anna Cusack: One Woman's Campaign for Women's Rights, a Biography, rev. ed. (Dublin 1979). d. vidulich, Peace Pays a Price: A Study of Margaret Anna Cusack, the Nun of Kenmare, rev. ed. (Washington, DC 1990).

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