Belfast Telegraph

Sisters of Charity founder honoured

The Irish founder of a global order of nuns has moved a step closer to becoming a saint after being declared venerable by Pope Francis.

Mary Aikenhead, born in Cork in 1787, is one of seven figures just awarded a degree of heroic virtue in the Vatican.

The honour means she is halfway through a four-step process in the Catholic Church towards full sainthood.

Aikenhead was recognised for her work founding the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1815 to provide services to "the suffering poor".

The order is known for its work caring for the dying, the sick, migrants, asylum seekers, the homeless and prison inmates.

Recently, it was at the centre of controversy as one of four religious congregations that ran Magdalene laundries, workhouses for single mothers in Ireland.

The order now spans Ireland, England, Scotland, Zambia, California, Nigeria, Malawi and Australia.

Sister Mary Christian, congregational leader of the Religious Sisters of Charity, described Aikenhead as a woman ahead of her time.

"All around her she saw the plight of people who were poor and suffering," she said.

"Her great faith and trust in Divine Providence enabled her and the first Religious Sisters of Charity to provide education for poor children, establish medical facilities for those in need of health care and to visit the sick and poor in their homes."

Aikenhead opened her first convent in North William Street in Dublin.

The nuns became the first to visit prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol.

She also founded St Vincent's Hospital in 1834, the first in Ireland to be run by women, and in 1838 sent five colleagues to Australia where they became first nuns to set foot in the country.

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