Martin, Mother Mary (1892–1975)

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Martin, Mother Mary (1892–1975)

Irish founder of the Medical Missionaries of Mary . Name variations: Mary Martin. Born in 1892, in Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland; died on January 27, 1975, in the hospital she had founded in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland; father was a timber merchant; educated at Sacred Heart Convent, Leeson Street, Dublin, and Holy Child College, Harrogate, Yorkshire, England; never married; no children.

Mother Mary Martin advocated untiringly for permission from the Roman Catholic Church to allow women's religious orders to perform medical work. Once this permission was granted by Pope Pius XI in 1936, she would found a religious order, the Medical Missionaries of Mary, that has since opened hospitals in Spain, Italy, the United States, and throughout Africa.

While serving as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse during World War I in England, France, and Malta, Martin had determined to dedicate her life to medical service. In 1921, having trained as a midwife, she went to Nigeria at the request of Bishop Shanahan, a missionary in Africa. There she conceived the idea of founding a religious order for women that would establish clinics and hospitals to serve Africans. In 1923, she returned to Ireland on the bishop's advice, but left the new congregation to which he had directed her after two years. Although in ill health, Martin continued to advocate that women in holy orders should be permitted to perform maternity and medical work. Encouraged by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, she sought permission for this from the Vatican throughout the next ten years, and in 1936 succeeded in winning papal authorization for her plan. In April 1938, while seriously ill in a hospital in southern Nigeria, Martin was professed as a nun.

On medical advice, she returned home to Ireland, where she opened a house for students at Booterstown, County Dublin, a novitiate at Collon, County Louth, and, in response to local requests, a maternity hospital in Drogheda in December 1939. When she opened the International Missionary Training Hospital in Drogheda in 1957, Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, became a patron. Through his assistance, a hostel for extern sisters and students was opened two years later.

Martin was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal from the International Red Cross in 1963. In 1966, she was the first woman to be made a freeman of Drogheda and was also the first woman to be inducted into the honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland (RCSI), which cited "her singular achievements in the field of medical missions." Mother Mary Martin died on January 27, 1975, in the hospital in Drogheda that she had founded.

Beth Champagne , journalist and freelance writer, West Barnet, Vermont