Mother Mary Frances Aikenhead, founder of the Catholic religious institute, the Religious Sisters of Charity, and of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, is born in Daunt’s Square off Grand Parade, County Cork, on January 19, 1787.
Aikenhead is baptised in the Anglican Communion on April 4, 1787. Since she is quite frail and possibly asthmatic, it was recommended that she be fostered with a nanny named Mary Rourke who lives on higher ground on Eason’s Hill, Shandon, Cork. It is believed that she is secretly baptised a Catholic by Mary Rourke, who is a devout Catholic. Aikenhead’s parents visit every week until 1793 when her father, Dr. David Aikenhead, decides he wants her to rejoin the family in Daunt’s Square.
By the early 1790s, Aikenhead’s father has become imbibed by the principles of the United Irishmen. On one occasion Lord Edward FitzGerald, disguised as a Quaker, seeks refuge in the Aikenhead home. He is enjoying dinner with the family when the house is surrounded by troops. Fitzgerald manages to slip away but the house is searched but no incriminating documents are found.
On June 6, 1802, at age of fifteen, Aikenhead is officially baptised a Roman Catholic. In 1808, she goes to stay with her friend Anne O’Brien in Dublin. Here she witnesses widespread unemployment and poverty and soon begins to accompany her friend in visiting the poor and sick in their homes. After many years in charity work and feeling the call to religious life, she looks in vain for a religious institute devoted to outside charitable work.
Aikenhead is chosen by Archbishop Murray, Bishop Coadjutor of Dublin, to carry out his plan of founding a congregation of the Sisters of Charity in Ireland. From 1812 – 1815 she is a novitiate in the Convent of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin at Micklegate Bar, York. It is there she assumes the name Sister Mary Augustine, which she keeps for the rest of her life.
On September 1, 1815, the initial members of the Convent of the Institute take their vows and Sister Mary Augustine is appointed Superior-General. The following sixteen years are filled with arduous work – organizing the community and extending its sphere of labor to every phase of charity, chiefly hospital and rescue work.
In 1831, overexertion and disease take a toll Sister Mary Augustine’s health, leaving her an invalid. Her activity is unceasing, however, as she directs her sisters in their work during the plague of 1832, places them in charge of new institutions, and sends them on missions to France and Australia. She also founds St. Margaret’s Hospice, which has been known as St. Margaret of Scotland Hospice since 1950.
Sister Mary Augustine dies in Dublin on July 22, 1858 at 71 years of age. She leaves her institute in a flourishing condition, in charge of ten institutions, besides innumerable missions and branches of charitable work. She is buried in the cemetery adjacent to St. Mary Magdalen’s, Donnybrook.