seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Teresa Kearney, Teacher, Franciscan Sister & Missionary

Teresa Kearney, better known as Mother Kevin, a teacher, Franciscan Sister, and missionary who founds a new Franciscan order, is born in Knockenrahan, Arklow, County Wicklow, on April 28, 1875.

Kearney is the third daughter of farmer Michael Kearney and Teresa Kearney. Three months prior to her birth, her father dies in an accident. Following his death, her mother remarries and has three more children. When she is ten years old, her mother dies. Her maternal grandmother, Grannie Grenell, then raises her in Curranstown, County Wicklow. Grannie Grenell has a profound impact on her spiritual beliefs and deep faith. When she is 17, Grannie Grenell dies.

Kearney attends the local convent school in Arklow following her mother’s death. In 1889, following her grandmother’s death, she goes to convent of Mercy at Rathdrum, to train as an assistant teacher. She does not have the finances to pay for training, and becomes a Junior Assistant Mistress. A year later, she goes to teach in a school run by the Sisters of Charity in Essex.

Following the death of her grandmother, Kearney turns toward thoughts of religious life. She believes that God is calling her to be a sister, and she applies for admission to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Five Wounds at Mill Hill, London. In 1895, she enters the St. Mary’s Abbey, Mill Hill. On April 21, 1898 she takes the name Sister Mary Kevin of the Sacred Passion. Her motto is “For Thee, Lord.” She volunteers to work with African Americans in London. She waits three years for a posting to the American mission, but when the call from a foreign mission comes, it comes from Africa.

On December 3, 1902, Kearney and five other sisters leave London for Nsambya, Uganda. They are chosen at the request of Bishop Henry Hanlon of the Mill Hill Fathers. The sisters arrive on January 15, 1903 and establish a dispensary and school in the Buganda. Their task is to care for the women and girls and to further weaken the association of Catholicism with French missionaries and Protestantism with British missionaries in the then British Protectorate. Among the sisters are three Irish, one American, one English, and one Scottish woman.

Kearney starts her first clinic under a mango tree near the convent. The first seven years of missionary work are tough for the sisters. Various diseases, from smallpox to malaria, ravage Buganda. The infant mortality rate is also relatively high due to the high frequency of maternal deaths. In 1906, she expands the missionary and sets up a hospital in Nagalama, twenty-three miles away. She is appointed the new superior of the convent following Sister Paul’s illness and return to the United States in 1910. In 1913, three more sisters arrive, which allows her to establish a third mission station in Kamuli, Busoga. All three stations focus on medicine and education for the local population with a focus on primary and secondary education, training of nurses, and the founding of clinics, hospitals and orphanages.

During World War I, the Nsambya Hospital is used to treat the Native Carrier Corp, porters for European troops. At times, Kearney is outraged by the treatment Europeans give to the African porters. She works to uphold the rights of African people caught up in the European war. On December 25, 1918 she is awarded the Member of Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to the wounded during the war years.

Kearney is credited for promoting higher education in Catholic African women in her mission. In 1923, she founds the Little Sisters of St. Francis, a community of African nuns for teaching and nursing. This program starts with only eight local girls. A year later, she and Dr. Evelyn Connolly, a lay missionary, found a nursing and midwifery school in Nsambya. Their goal is to promote the education of women throughout Uganda.

In September 1928, Kearney returns to England to establish a novitiate exclusively for training sisters for African missions. The novitiate is officially opened in 1929 in Holme Hall, Yorkshire. Many women from England, Scotland and Ireland travel to Holme Hall to assist the missionary efforts. This creates a shortage for the Mill Hill Fathers, who also need sisters for their school in England and American missions. Upon realization of this divide, Kearney and the Mill Hill Fathers break off from each other. On June 9, 1952 she founds the new congregation of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa. She is appointed the first superior general. Mount Oliver, Dundalk, becomes the motherhouse for this new congregation. With the formation of the FMSA, she expands the missionary work to Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, the United States, Scotland, and South Africa.

Kearney retires in 1955 at age 80. During retirement, she is appointed Superior of a convent in Boston, Massachusetts and raises funds for African projects. She travels and talks to donors to garner support for projects in Africa.

On October 17, 1957, Kearney dies at the age of 82 in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her remains are flown to Ireland and buried at Mount Oliver. Ugandan Catholics rally to have her body flown to Uganda to be buried. On December 3, 1957, her body is buried in the cemetery at Nkokonjeru, the motherhouse of the Little Sisters of St. Francis.

Kearney’s legacy is evident today. In Uganda, the word Kevina means “hospital” or “charitable institute.” The Mother Kevin Postgraduate Medical School is named after her. The Little Sisters of St. Francis has over 500 members throughout Africa, while the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa currently works in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.


Leave a comment

Death of Mother Mary Martin

Mother Mary of the Incarnation Martin, foundress of the Catholic religious institute of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, dies in Drogheda, County Louth, on January 27, 1975.

Martin is born Marie Helena Martin in Glenageary, County Dublin, on April 24, 1892, the second of twelve children of Thomas Martin and Mary Moore. In 1904, while attending classes for her First Communion, she contracts rheumatic fever, which is to affect her heart permanently. Tragedy hits the family on St. Patrick’s Day 1907, as her father is killed in what is presumed to be an accidental shooting. Later her mother sends her to schools in Scotland, England and Germany, all of which she leaves as quickly as possible.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Martin joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a division of the Red Cross. In October 1915, she is assigned to work in Malta. After learning that her brother had been killed in the campaign of Gallipoli, she returns to Ireland in April 1916. She is called to serve again a month later at Neufchâtel-Hardelot, France, in a field hospital near the front lines of the Battle of the Somme. This assignment lasts until December of that year, followed by a brief stint in Leeds, England. After the war, she is called upon help in nursing victims of the Spanish flu, which had begun to devastate populations around the world.

In 1917 a new curate comes to the parish which Martin attends, the Reverend Thomas Roynane, to whom she turns for guidance. Roynane inspires her with an interest in pursuing missionary work. She goes to England in January 1919 for further medical training. Her mother’s severe illness the following year interrupts her training, however, as she has to return home to care for her.

In April 1920, Roynane arranges for Martin to meet the new bishop, and she volunteers her services as a lay missionary to work in his jurisdiction in southern Nigeria. Agnes Ryan, a local schoolteacher now in her fourth year of medical training, advises her that she wishes to join her in the African mission.

In April 1921, Martin and Ryan leave Ireland for Nigeria. They set sail for Africa from Liverpool on May 25 and arrive in the port of Calabar on June 14. They arrive prepared to provide medical care, only to learn that they are expected to run a school which had been staffed by French Religious Sisters until two years prior. To give the parents and children of the school a sense of continuity, the two women are addressed as “Sisters” by the priests and treated as if they are already members of an established religious institute.

By October, Ryan contracts malaria and develops a heart condition, which require her return to Ireland. Forced to fill in as Acting Headmistress, Martin meets with the bishop in his headquarters at Onitsha and is advised that caution is needed in providing medical care to the people of her mission, so as not to provoke objections by other missionaries in the region. Upon her return to Calabar, she makes a 30-day retreat.

In April 1922 the bishop travels there and holds two weeks of consultations with Martin, Roynane and another missioner, during which the Rule and Constitutions of a new congregation are hammered out, with the understanding that Martin will be the foundress. Martin does not see the bishop again for two years. During this time she learns that the bishop is working to establish the new congregation in Ireland, a direction she feels will focus the congregation on teaching rather than the medical care. An Irish Sister of Charity, Sister Magdalen Walker, is released from her congregation to help in this new work and arrives in Calabar in October 1923.

The following January Martin is directed by the bishop to return to Ireland to make a canonical novitiate. In March she starts her time of postulancy, prior to admission to the novitiate year. After 18 months, however, upon completion of the novitiate year she leaves the community, as the training provided by the Dominican Sisters has not been oriented toward medical care.

In this formal step of forming the new congregation, Martin encounters the prohibition in the new Code of Canon Law of 1917 of the Catholic Church against members of religious orders practicing medicine. Facing this barrier, she still feels a call to consecrated life and considers following the example of the recently canonized Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1927 she applies to the community of that Order in Dublin, but her application is declined, solely on the decision of the prioress who feels that Martin is called to a different path in life. She then goes through a new period of confusion until she is requested to consider again serving the missions. She then forms a small group of women to provide the domestic service for the preparatory school run by the Benedictine monks Glenstal Abbey.

In 1933, following a long period of illness, Martin approaches the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Paschal Robinson. He is supportive of her goals and encourages her continually over the next years. Finally, in February 1936, the Holy See lifts prohibition against Religious Sisters serving as doctors or midwives. She then seeks a diocese which will accept a new congregation, without success. In October of that same year, Antonio Riberi is named Apostolic Delegate in Africa, based in Kenya. He gives his support to having the congregation established in Calabar.

While still negotiating to purchase a house in Ireland as a local base, complicated by the fact that they are not yet a formal congregation, the small community sails for Nigeria at the end of 1936. Upon their arrival Martin suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized at Port Harcourt. It is there that she professes religious vows on April 4, 1937. With that the Medical Missionaries of Mary become established.

Martin’s health is always a source of concern but she lives until 1975. Today the Medical Missionaries of Mary number some 400 women from 16 different nations, who serve in 14 different countries around the world.


Leave a comment

Marriage of John Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnley

john-bligh-3rd-earl-of-darnleyJohn Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnley and former Member of Parliament (MP) for Athboy, who suffers from the delusion that he is a teapot, marries suddenly and unexpectedly on September 11, 1766 at nearly 50 years of age. Suffering from the delusion that he is a teapot, from the date of his marriage until his death in 1781 he fathers at least seven children “in spite of his initial alarm that his spout would come off in the night.”

Bligh is born on October 1, 1719 near Gravesend, Kent, the son of John Bligh, 1st Earl of Darnley and Lady Theodosia Hyde, later Baroness Clifton (in her own right). At the age of eight he is sent to Westminster School. He matriculates at Merton College on May 13, 1735 and is created MA on July 13, 1738.

Outwardly, Bligh appears “solid” and “capable,” a man “terribly conscious of his own dignity.” His eccentricities do not stop him becoming MP for Athboy, which he represents from 1739 until 1748, and for Maidstone, Kent, which he serves from 1741 to 1747.

After failing to be elected MP for Tregony, Cornwall, in 1754, Bligh never stands again for parliament, either in England or Ireland. The seat that he gains in the House of Lords, in 1765, gives him the opportunity to return to Ireland more frequently.

In Dublin, on September 11, 1766, the “ageing nobleman” of almost 48-years-old, suddenly marries eighteen-year-old Mary Stoyte, a wealthy heiress and only child of John Stoyte, a leading barrister from Streete, County Westmeath. The unexpected marriage, between a sworn bachelor and a young woman, shocks Dublin society.

The new Countess of Darnley has to cope with the odd private behaviour of her touchy husband. According to a manuscript in the possession of the Tighe family, on the night of his marriage, Bligh “imagined himself to be a fine China tea pot, and was under great fears, lest the spout should be broken off before morning!”

In spite of his nocturnal fears, the earl manages to father at least seven children: John (1767), Mary (1768), Edward (1769), Theodosia (1771), Sarah (1772), Catherine (1774), and William (1775).

Each summer, Bligh takes his family to Weymouth, where the seawater is believed to strengthen weak constitutions and help brace nerves.

Despite every precaution, in 1781 Bligh catches malaria. Attempts to treat him with quinine and peppermint-water purges fail, and on July 31, 1781, he dies at the age of 61, his spout supposedly still intact. Mary lives on until 1803.