The Venerable Mary Aikenhead – 165 years of legacy

We honour the life and work of the Venerable Mary Aikenhead, 19 January 1787 – 22 July 1858. Mary was the founder of Sisters of Charity, the congregation responsible for establishing St Vincent’s Hospitals.

Mary committed herself to service of the poor and disenfranchised from an early age. Her work included caring for orphans, visiting disadvantaged people in hospital and gaol, and establishing schools for children living in poverty.

Mary’s own health was ravaged by disease and sadly, by 1831, she was confined to a bed or wheelchair. However, this did not slow her efforts in extending and marshalling her congregation to provide charity.

Mary’s long-held dream of opening a hospital to serve poor, vulnerable and marginalised patients was finally realised in 1834. With funding and support from philanthropic businesses and individuals, she established St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. It was first hospital in Ireland to be run by women and where doctors and nurses could receive training. This hospital was to be the model for the numerous Sisters of Charity health care facilities to come.

In 1838, Mary Aikenhead sent five Sisters to Australia, the first religious women to set foot in this country. Under Mary’s enterprising guidance, the Sisters garnered community support to raise the funds to purchase a suitable property to set up a public hospital that could provide care for those not supported by the government provisions. It was the power of the community’s advocacy and philanthropic support that made it possible to open the first hospital in Sydney to provide free, quality public healthcare.

Mary died in Dublin, aged 71, leaving behind a phenomenal legacy – having established a congregation in charge of ten institutions, fulfilling innumerable missions and branches of charitable work. At St Vincent’s Hospitals, we honour Mary’s spirit everyday through the values that underpin our actions and decisions, Compassion, Justice, Integrity and Excellence. By contributing to St Vincent’s Hospitals, our supporters also help to keep her vision alive.

You can read more about the venerable Mary Aikenhead here: RSCCARITAS Mary Aikenhead biography

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of St Vincent’s Hospitals and the Sisters of Charity, you can explore the Archives. Find out more here: