Mary Aikenhead, Founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity

The Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Charity was founded by Mary Aikenhead in 1815. Mary was born in Cork, Ireland in 1787 to a Protestant father David, and a Catholic mother, Mary. She was the eldest of four children. Being a delicate baby, she was sent to live with foster parents, John and Mary Rourke, and in that home the seeds of her future commitment to Catholicism were sewn. She returned to the family home when she was six, and led a comfortable and privileged life, receiving a good education befitting a young lady. Having heard the homily concerning Dives and Lazarus when attending the Catholic Church with her Aunt, Mary was greatly moved and after some time of reflection and preparation she was received into the Catholic Church, at the age of fifteen.

When Mary was twenty five, at the invitation of Archbishop Murray of Dublin, together with Catherine Walsh, she went to York to receive training at the Bar Convent with the Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On her return to Dublin, she founded the Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1815.  The constitutions were approved by Rome in 1833.

Religious Sisters at that time stayed in their convents, but this congregation were to devote themselves to the service of the poor, reaching out to every need, providing health care, education and social services at a time when these were not provided by the state. In 1830 she opened a Catholic school for poor children.  Her concern for the sick poor prompted her to open St Vincent's Hospital in 1835.  At the request of Dr Polding, Archbishop of Sydney, Mary decided to send five Sisters to Australia in 1838. They went to minister to female convicts and were the first religious in that country.

The congregation has now spread to Australia, Zambia, Nigeria, Malawi, California, Ireland, Scotland and England.   Like Mary Aikenhead, we put our trust in Jesus and continue to bring the compassion and love of Jesus to the many who are in need of a word of hope and encouragement, a helping hand, and a listening ear.  

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