Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aikenhead, Mary

AIKENHEAD, MARY (1787–1858), foundress of the Irish sisters of charity, was born on 19 Jan. 1787. She was the eldest daughter of Dr. David Aikenhead, of Cork, and was brought up a protestant, like her father; but on his deathbed he was received into the church of Rome, to which his wife belonged, and soon afterwards Mary, when in her sixteenth year, became a catholic. After the death of her mother some years later, Archbishop Murray proposed that she should join him in founding a congregation of sisters of charity, the first of the kind in Ireland. Having consented, she went, with one other lady, by Dr. Murray's desire, to a convent at York, where they spent three years as novices. Returning to Dublin, they made their profession, and opened the first convent of sisters of charity in North William Street, Dublin, Mary Aikenhead being appointed superior-general of the new foundation. The congregation was ‘canonically erected’ in 1816.

Miss Aikenhead, who was a woman of remarkable energy and generosity of character, although for many years almost entirely confined to her couch, lived to superintend the foundation of ten houses belonging to her order, viz. eight convents, an asylum for penitents, and the hospital of St. Vincent, in Dublin, the first hospital in Ireland served by nuns. She died 22 July 1858.

[Mary Aikenhead, her Life, her Work, and her Friends; giving a history of the Foundation of the Congregation of the Irish Sisters of Charity. By S. A. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Sons. 1882.]

C. E. S.