mary-aikenheadCARMEL HOUSE, Glenorchy Campus

MARY AIKENHEAD, founder of  the Sisters of Charity

Mary Aikenhead founded the religious congregation, the Sisters of Charity, in Ireland in 1816.

Born in Cork in 1787 to an upper-class Protestant father and Catholic mother, she was deeply affected by her father’s work as a doctor among the Irish poor and by his death-bed conversion to Catholicism. In 1802, she became a Catholic.

After moving to Dublin in 1809, Mary and the newly-appointed coadjutor bishop of Dublin, Daniel Murray, worked together on founding a new religious congregation.

Caritas Christi urget nos – “the love of Christ urges us on” – became the motto of the Sisters of Charity. The first work undertaken by the community was a women’s refuge and then care of orphans and visitation of the sick in hospitals, the poor in their homes and prisoners in jail as well as a system of schools for the children of the poor.

Despite all her good work, Mary retained a dream of establishing a hospital for the poor. In 1834, St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, was opened. It was dedicated to care of all, regardless of background or creed. This first hospital was to become the model for numerous Sisters of Charity hospitals and health care facilities later established in many countries, including Australia (a hospital in Launceston, Tasmania, being among them).

Until her death on 22 July 1858, Mary ministered tirelessly to the poor, together with the companions who joined her as Sisters of Charity, and her many lay friends. In March 2015 she was declared Venerable by the Catholic Church. This is the first step on the way to canonisation (sainthood).

Sisters of Charity first arrived in Australia on 31 December 1838 (Sydney) and came to Tasmania on 2 July 1847. Sisters still live in Taroona.

With the advent of aging years and decreasing numbers of Sisters, Mary Aikenhead Ministries was formally established in Australia on 1 July 2009 to continue and to develop the education, health and aged care, research and social services ministries of the Sisters of Charity into the future.

Links with GYC:

SISTERS OF CHARITY is a founding congregation of GYC

CARMEL HOUSE* (Glenorchy Campus)

MOUNT CARMEL COLLEGE*, Sandy Bay, founded by the Sisters of Charity, is one of GYC’s Association Colleges. In more recent years, St Aloysius Catholic Primary School, also originally a Sisters of Charity school at Kingston, has expanded to become ST ALOYSIUS CATHOLIC COLLEGE which now is another GYC Association College.

*Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast.Its name comes from the Hebrew Karem El which means ‘vineyards of God’. In ancient times it was covered by vineyards and is famous for its fertility. Haifa is on its northern slope.

Mary Aikenhead’s work prompts us to work for the alleviation of poverty, loneliness, suffering, ignorance and oppression. Her life calls us to appreciate the value of education.