Fitzgibbon, Mary Irene, Sister
FITZGIBBON, MARY IRENE, SISTER
Social worker; b. Kensington, England, May 11, 1823; d. New York City, Aug. 14, 1896. When Catherine Fitzgibbon was nine years old, her family went to the U.S. and settled in St. James's parish, Brooklyn, N.Y. After receiving her early education in the parish school, she entered the Sisters of Charity, Jan. 10, 1850, and took the name of Sister Mary Irene. She taught in St. Peter's Academy, Barclay Street, New York City, until 1858, when she was appointed sister servant (superior) at St. Peter's Convent. Abandoned children were frequently left on the convent doorstep, and, at the request of Abp. John mccloskey, Sister Mary Irene was chosen to care for these infants. With Sister Teresa Vincent McCrystal and three other sisters, she initiated a work that gradually expanded to the care of 100,000 children. The Foundling Asylum, later known as the New York Foundling Hospital, was opened on Oct. 11, 1869. To provide for its maintenance, Sister Irene organized (November 1869), with the aid of Mrs. Paul Thébaud, the Foundling Asylum Society, a laywomen's auxiliary. In 1873 the hospital site was moved to East 68th Street, where it remained until its building on Third Avenue was opened in 1958.
Sister Irene initiated two important phases of foundling work: the boarding department and the shelter. The first provided for the care of children by foster parents in their homes. For such foster care and also for legal adoption, she established procedures that conformed to state and city regulations. The shelter aided needy unmarried mothers, keeping mother and child together and saving babies by a wet-nurse program. The rehabilitation of unwed mothers became Sister Irene's special work, for
which she established three institutions associated with the New York Foundling Hospital: St. Ann's Maternity Hospital (1880), Hospital of St. John for Children (1881), and Nazareth Hospital, Spuyten Duyvil, New York City, for convalescent children (1881). In 1894 Seton Hospital for tubercular male patients was erected next to Nazareth Hospital; she also opened a temporary day nursery for preschool children of working mothers. During her 27 years as superior of Foundling Hospital, she developed techniques for reducing the spread of disease that were imitated by hospitals throughout the U.S.
Bibliography: m. de l. walsh, The Sisters of Charity of New York, 1809–1959, 3 v. (New York 1960).
[m. l. fell]