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


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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.


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Birth of Margaret Aylward, Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith

Margaret Louisa Aylward, Roman Catholic nun, philanthropist, and founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, is born to a wealthy merchant family on November 23, 1810 in Thomas Street in Waterford, County Waterford.

Aylward is educated by the Ursuline nuns in Thurles, County Tipperary. After doing some charitable work in Waterford in her early years, she joins her sister in the Sisters of Charity in 1834 as a novice. She leaves the novitiate in 1836 and returns to Waterford to continue her charity work in a secular role. She again attempts to join a religious order in 1846 when she enters the Ursuline novitiate in Waterford, however she leaves after two months.

By 1851, Aylward has moved to Dublin where she is active in re-energising the Ladies’ Association of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Great Famine leads to a large-scale movement of people from rural areas into cities, including Dublin, which leads to increased pressure on the charitable institutions of these areas. Her efforts are part of this wider charitable effort to help the poor, particularly Catholics who are seen to be at risk of coercive religious conversion (known as Souperism). This association is concerned with the “temporal as well as the spiritual relief of the sick poor in Dublin.”

The Ladies’ Association of St. Vincent de Paul opens St. Brigid’s in 1856, an orphanage which has an anti-proselytising mission and claims to rescue Catholic children from Protestant agencies. The Ladies’ Association often comes into dispute with those involved in the Irish Church Missions (ICM) and the ragged schools in Dublin, with members of the Ladies’ Association distributing crucifixes to children attending the Protestant-run ragged schools and visiting the homes of parents who send their children to them. The women involved in St. Brigid’s Orphanage organise themselves into a society called the Daughters of St. Brigid. However, while the establishment of St. Brigid’s brings Aylward closer to religious orders, historian Maria Luddy notes that in the 1850s, she is not concerned with the establishment of a religious community, rather she wants to “live in a community of women who were united by their religious convictions but did not necessarily desire to take formal religious vows.”

There is a growth in religious orders for women in Ireland from the early nineteenth century due to a relaxing of anti-Catholic Penal Laws. These include the Irish Sisters of Charity who are established in 1815 under Mary Aikenhead, the Sisters of Loreto order (1822) under Frances Ball, and Catherine McAuley‘s Sisters of Mercy (1831). Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin is an important figure in persuading leaders of religious communities of women, like Catherine McAuley, to formally organise as religious congregations in order to continue their charitable work and be respectable. While Aylward is resistant to this idea for a while, she eventually agrees. In 1857 the Sisters of the Holy Faith are established, and in 1869 the order are approved by Pope Pius IX.

Aylward is arrested in 1860 for “failing to produce a child named Mary Matthews, who had been taken away and concealed from her parents for the purpose of being brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.” Matthews had been placed with a nurse in Saggart, County Dublin, when her father had died and her mother had emigrated to The Bahamas. When her mother returns, Aylward is notified by Matthews’ foster mother that she is missing. Aylward is acquitted of the charge of kidnapping but is found to be in contempt of court and serves six months in jail. She continues her work after her release.

Aylward (now Sister Mary Agatha) dies on October 11, 1889. She had continued wearing her own clothes and travelling after taking her religious vows.

Historian Margaret Helen Preston argues that Aylward is unusual for the time that she lives in because she does not believe that poverty results from sin. Aylward refers to the poor as the “Elect of God” and argues that God sees the poor as special because of their difficult circumstances.

The Sisters of the Holy Faith still work around the world.


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Death of John McElroy, Founder of Boston College

Death of Jesuit John McElroy, the founder of Boston College, at age of 95 in Frederick, Maryland, on September 12, 1877.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1782 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the younger of two sons. In the hopes of providing a better life for John and his brother Anthony, their father, a farmer, finances their travel to the United States. In 1803 the two young men board a ship leaving the port of Londonderry and arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 26. McElroy eventually settles in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and becomes a merchant.

In 1806, McElroy enters Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., the same year he enters the novitiate of the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He eventually manages the finances of Georgetown College and in 1808 erects the tower building. He managed the school’s finances so well that through the period of economic hardship following the War of 1812, he is able to send several Jesuits to Rome to study.

McElroy is ordained in May 1817, after less than two years of preparation. As a new priest, he is assigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown as an assistant pastor. In his short time at Trinity, he contributes to the growth of the congregation and enlarging of the church building. This is achieved by increasing the monthly subscription for congregation members from 12½ cents to $12.50 on July 3, 1819. The following day he travels to most of the congregation members’ homes and collects $2,000 in pledges. He immediately sets to work having the Church modified to include two lateral-wing chapels, which are first used on October 3, 1819.

On January 11, 1819, McElroy is granted United States citizenship. Also in 1819, McElroy starts a Sunday School for black children who are taught prayers and catechism simultaneously with spelling and reading, by volunteer members of the congregation. McElroy spends his remaining years in Georgetown teaching the lower grades.

In 1823, McElroy begins negotiations with the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for the establishment of a school for girls in Frederick. In 1824, the St. John’s Benevolent Female Free School is founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph at 200 East Second Street in Frederick. In 1825, McElroy sets to work replacing the pre-American Revolution log cabin that houses the school with a modern building large enough to also house an orphanage.

McElroy’s next task is to found an educational institution for boys. On August 7, 1828, the construction of St. John’s Literary Institute begins. The following year the construction is completed and the school is opened, a school which is currently operating under the name of Saint John’s Catholic Prep.

In October 1847, McElroy is welcomed in Boston, Massachusetts, by the Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the North End. Bishop Fitzpatrick sets McElroy to work on bringing a college to Boston.

In 1853, McElroy finds a property in the South End where the city jail once stood. After two years of negotiations the project falls through due to zoning issues. A new site is identified and city officials endorse the sale. In 1858, Bishop Fitzpatrick and Father McElroy break ground for Boston College, and for the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Classes began in the fall of 1864, and continue at this location until 1913 when the college moves to its current location at Chestnut Hill. Initially Boston College offers a 7-year program including both high school and college. This joint program continues until 1927 when the high school is separately incorporated.

In 1868, McElroy retires to the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. He visits Georgetown for the final time in 1872 to celebrate his golden jubilee. His eyesight is failing and while moving through his home he falls, fracturing his femur, which eventually leads to his death. Father John McElroy dies September 12, 1877 at the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. For some years leading up to his death, he is regarded as the oldest priest in the United States and the oldest Jesuit in the world. He is buried in the Novitiate Cemetery. In 1903, the Jesuits withdraw from Frederick and the graves are moved from the Frederick Jesuit Novitiate Cemetery to St. John’s Cemetery.