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The Religious Sisters of Charity or Irish Sisters of Charity is a Roman Catholic religious institute founded by Mary Aikenhead in Ireland in 1815.

Its motto is "Caritas Christi urget nos" (The love Christ urges us on) (2 Corinthians 5:14).

The institute has its headquarters at Harold's Cross in Dublin and operates in the Ireland, England, Scotland, Nigeria, Zambia, United States and Venezuela. The website states that 'The whole congregation is governed by a congregational leader, assisted by a group of sisters known as the general leadership team or the general council.'[1] The Religious Sisters of Charity of Australia is constituted as a distinct Congregation.

In England and Scotland, it operates as a registered charity[2] and in 2007–8 had a gross income of £15.5 million and 251 employees.



The religious institute was founded by Mary Frances Aikenhead (1787–1858) who opened its first convent in Dublin in 1815.[3]

In 1834 St. Vincent's Hospital in Dublin was set up by Mary Aikenhead[4] (the first hospital staffed by nuns in the English-speaking world).

In 1838 five sisters arrived in Australia — the first religious women to set foot on Australian soil — and later opened a convent in Parramatta. Since 1842 the Australian congregation has operated independently. St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, was founded by the Sisters in 1857.[5] In 1925, the Sisters of Charity ventured to Queensland, Australia to open a school, Mt St Michael's College - originally known as Grantuly until 1941 - in Ashgrove.[6]

In 1879 the Sisters opened a hospice in Harold's Cross, Dublin, pioneering the modern hospice movement. The Sisters operate a heritage centre within the grounds of Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, Dublin.[7] In December 2003, Our Lady's Hospice opened a satellite unit for specialist palliative care in Blackrock, Co. Dublin called The Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin Hospice. It was provided through the generosity of the Louis and Zelie Martin Foundation.[8]

In 1892 Agnes Bernard of the Sisters of Charity started a convent and woollen mill in Foxford in County Mayo. The woollen mills are still (2017) an important employer.[9]


In 1821 the Governor of Kilmainham Gaol asked sisters to visit women inmates; prison visitation remains an important ministry for the Congregation.[10] The Stanhope Street Primary School, Dublin originally opened in 1867. A new building on the same site continues to educate students. In Lagos, Nigeria the sisters staff St. Joseph’s Clinic, Kirikiri.


The Sisters of Charity is one of 18 religious congregations which managed residential institutions for children investigated by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and was party to the 2002, €128-million indemnity agreement with the Republic of Ireland State.[11] The Commission's work started in 1999 and it published its public report, commonly referred to as the Ryan report, on 20 May 2009.

Following publication of the Ryan report in 2009 the Sisters of Charity offered to contribute a further €5 million towards the €1.5 billion redress costs incurred by the State involving former residents of the institutions. However, the Sisters of Charity have contributed just €2 million of their 2009 offer to date,[11] whilst Catholic religious congregations who ran residential institutions where children were abused have paid just 13% of the costs of a redress scheme set up to help survivors, according to a 2017 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General published by the Department of Education.[12]

The Sisters of Charity congregation has also to complete its contribution to the 2002 indemnity agreement. It owns one of 11 properties yet to be transferred to the State before terms of the 2002 agreement are fulfilled.

Magdalene AsylumsEdit

The Sisters of Charity were one of a few organisations to run the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as Magdalene asylums. These were institutions usually run by Roman Catholic orders, which operated from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. They were run ostensibly to house "fallen women", an estimated 30,000 of whom were confined in these institutions in Ireland.[13] The sisters continue to care for more than 100 elderly Magdalene women who remain in their care.[14]

In 1993, a mass grave containing 155 corpses was uncovered in the convent grounds of one of the former laundries in Dublin,[15] which led to media articles about the operations of the secretive institutions. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child ultimately called for a government inquiry.[16] A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a £50-60 million compensation scheme for survivors was set up. Neither the Catholic Church,[14] nor the four religious institutes that ran the Irish asylums have as yet contributed to the survivor's fund, despite demands from the Irish government, and the United Nations Committee Against Torture.[17]

Senator Martin McAleese chaired an Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. An Interim Report was released in October 2011.[18] In 2013 the BBC did a special investigation, Sue Lloyd-Roberts' "Demanding justice for women and children abused by Irish nuns." [19] The Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, and Sisters of Charity, have ignored requests by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture to contribute to the compensation fund for victims including 600 still alive in March 2014.[20] In 2013 the Sisters of Charity, along with the three other religious congregations which managed Magdalene laundries, announced that they would not be making any contribution to the State redress scheme for women who had been in the laundries.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Congregational structure". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  2. ^ Charity Commission. Religious Sisters Of Charity, registered charity no. 231323.
  3. ^ Mary Peckham Magray (4 June 1998). The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. Oxford University Press. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-0-19-535452-2.
  4. ^ Meenan, F. O. C. (1995). St Vincent's Hospital 1834-1994. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. ISBN 0-7171-2151-8.
  5. ^ Sydney, St Vincent’s Hospital. "Facility heritage - Heritage - About Us - St Vincent's Hospital Sydney". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Our History". Mt St Michael's College. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  7. ^ "Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  8. ^ "Our Lady's Hospice Heritage". Archived from the original on 17 May 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  9. ^ Margaret Molloy (28 November 2014). Agnes Morrogh-Bernard: Foundress of Foxford Woollen Mills. Mercier Press, Limited. ISBN 978-1-78117-330-5.
  10. ^ "History", Religious Sisters of Charity Ireland
  11. ^ a b c "Sisters of Charity to be given new National Maternity Hospital". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  12. ^ "13% of redress scheme cost paid so far - C&AG report". 9 March 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  13. ^ “Worked to the bone, starved, beaten and abused” (Greenaway & Metcalfe, 2015)
  14. ^ a b "Magdalene compensation snub is 'rejection of Laundry women'". 2 August 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  15. ^ Ryan, Carol (25 May 2011). "Irish Church's Forgotten Victims Take Case to U.N." Retrieved 19 April 2017 – via
  16. ^ "UN calls for Magdalene laundries investigation, demands Vatican turn over child abusers to police". RTE News. 5 February 2014.
  17. ^ "Investigate Magdalen Abuses: UN", Irish Examiner, June 7, 2011
  18. ^ Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries.
  19. ^ "Demanding justice for women and children abused by Irish nuns" BBC Magazine, 23 September 2013.
  20. ^ Ireland’s Forced Labour Survivors. BBC Assignment. 18 October 2014.

Further readingEdit

  • Donovan, Margaret. M. (1979bc). Apostolate of Love: Mary Aikenhead, 1787–1858, Foundress of the Irish Sisters of Charity. Melbourne: Polding Press.
  • Meenan, F. O. C. (1995). St Vincent's Hospital 1834-1994. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-7171-2151-9.
  • Whitaker, Anne-Maree (2007). St Vincent's Hospital 1857-2007: 150 Years of Charity, Care and Compassion. Kingsclear Books. ISBN 978-0-908272-88-4

External linksEdit