Born in Cork in 1787 of an upper class Protestant father and Catholic mother, Mary Aikenhead was deeply affected by her father’s work as a doctor among the Irish poor. She was the daughter of David Aikenhead, a physician, member of the Anglican Church of Ireland, and Mary Stacpole, a Roman Catholic and was baptised in the Anglican Communion on 4 April 1787.
Mary was aged 15 when she was officially baptised a Roman Catholic on 6 June 1802, a time after the death of her father on 15 December 1801, who had himself been received into the Roman Catholic Church on his death-bed.
She was chosen by Archbishop Murray, Bishop Coadjutor of Dublin, to carry out his plan of founding a congregation of the Sisters of Charity in Ireland, and in preparation for it made a novitiate of three years (1812–15) in the Convent of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin at Micklegate Bar, York.
On 1 September 1815, the first members of the new institute took their vows, Mary Aikenhead being appointed Superior-General. The following sixteen years were filled with the arduous work of organizing the community and extending its sphere of labor to every phase of charity, chiefly hospital and rescue work.
In 1831 overexertion and disease shattered Mary’s health, leaving her an invalid. Her activity was unceasing, however, and she directed her sisters in their heroic work during the plague of 1832, placed them in charge of new institutions and sent them on missions to France and beyond. In 1838 the first five Sisters travelled to Australia.
Mary Aikenhead died in Dublin, aged 71, having left her institute in a flourishing condition. She is interred in the cemetery attached to St. Mary Magdalen’s, Donnybrook, Ireland.
To find out more about Mary’s life please visit the Sisters of Charity website by Clicking here.