In October 1841 Very Rev. Dean Burke of Westport applied to Mother McAuley herself for Sisters for Westport. She promised the desired foundation as soon as Sisters were available, but she herself departed this life on 11th November 1841 and the Dean waited another year before renewing his request. When he then visited Baggot Street he was graciously advised to apply to Carlow where “heads and hands” were available. Mother Francis Warde granted his request and sent Sr. Paul Cullen as Superior Elect and Srs. Gertrude O’Brien and Magdalen O’Brien as the founding members. Mother Frances Warde and a novice, Sr. Xavier Peppard accompanied them and they arrived in Westport on 9th September 1842. They immediately began their work of visitation and care of the sick, and in a short time the poor schools were placed in their care. The foundation prospered and in a short time they were able to send a foundation to Sligo 30th June 1846, and another to Ballinrobe 15th February 1854. They received requests from farther afield and on 28th June 1859 six Sisters departed for Goulburn, Australia. Knowing the good works which the Sisters accomplished, they received many requests for more foundations and accordingly seven Sisters founded Newport on 2nd July 1887, four Sisters founded Ballyhaunis on 27th August 1898. Four Sisters went to Achill in 1905 and eight years later they had built a new Convent for themselves and took possession of it on 2nd July 1913, and on 10th November 1926 four Sisters founded the Convent in Mulrany, which they dedicated to St. Therese.
Convent Of Mercy – Tuam:
Having got Sisters for Westport in 1842 Archbishop MacHale again appealed to Carlow to send a foundation to Tuam to help the poor there. His request was acceded to favourably and on 13th January 1846 Mother Cecilia Maher of Carlow led the founding band of Sisters to Tuam. Sr. Alphonsus Ryan was the Superior Elect. The little band had ample scope for works of charity as famine and disease were rampant, and letters from them told stories of deprivation and destitution. As well as caring for the sick and deprived they endeavoured to provide education for the numerous underprivileged children.
More Sisters joined them and on New Year’s Day 1877 four Sisters departed Tuam for a foundation in Claremorris, where they performed the same works of visitation, care of the sick and education of children with commitment and dedication. Well over one hundred years later at the dedication of a new school the Principal could say: “Those of us who are writing the present chapter of our school’s history are proud to see this day. We trust that we are continuing the spirit of excellence in education so clearly headlined for us. ……We commit ourselves anew today to offer the highest standards possible, not only in academic achievement but also that our students go out as informed, responsible citizens”. Claremorris has a proud record in the field of education and home-making and can face the future with courage and conviction.
On 7th October 1919 two Sisters from Tuam arrived in Louisburgh to open a foundation there. Two other Sisters joined them after a few weeks and as well as providing all types of education for the local people the Louisburgh house served as a holiday house for Sisters over the years.
In 1927 the Department of Education proposed to set up Preparatory Colleges and the Tuam Sisters were asked to staff one such. They assented but it was not until 2nd February 1931 that they found a permanent home in Tourmakeady. The school flourished there until 1961 when it ceased to be a Preparatory College. For twenty years afterwards the Sisters ran it as a successful Class A Boarding school. With time however, it proved to be difficult to maintain the school there and eventually on 12th July 1990 the Sisters handed over the place to a local committee.
On 1st September 1959, a community of four Sisters arrived in Glenamaddy in response to a request from the local people to provide them with Secondary education. From that small beginning quite a complex school has grown over the years and their efforts have been very well documented.
Over the years the Sisters had received numerous requests for Sisters to minister in various locations in America, but it was not until 1969 that Sisters felt able to answer these pleas. Five Sisters left Ireland for San Diego on 11th August 1969. These firstly worked in the Parish of St. Didacus, and as others joined them they also served in Our Lady of Grace Parish, El Cajon founded in 1971 and in Good Shepherd Parish 1982. Parish work, catechetics, prayer and chaplaincy, were some of the ministries provided by the Sisters but very few now remain in California.
Ballinrobe was founded from Westport, on 19th February 1851 and as well as education and visitation the Sisters nursed the sick in the Workhouse hospital and helped the poor in every possible way. There were two foundations from Ballinrobe – Clonbur – four Sisters arrived there on Sunday 19th October 1924 and until the late 1980’s the Sisters as well as educating the local children, were involved in all aspects of parish life. That house is now the property of the North Connemara Voluntary Housing Association.
Lecanvey – four Sisters arrived in Lecanvey on 11th January 1925 to take charge of the Primary School as the teacher was about to retire, and as in Clonbur over the years they were involved in all aspects of local life.
Castlebar Convent was founded from Galway on 31st May 1853. Horrific stories of deprivation and desolation abounded, but the people were most anxious to avail of education and the Sisters provided this. At first they nursed the sick in their homes but after 1922 they were appointed to take charge of the Sacred Heart Hospital which still flourishes. In 1868 four Sisters from Castlebar went to Glasgow on foundation, but their hopes of continuing there were shattered by the death of the founding Sister – Gabriel Mangan, and they returned home.
On the 26th April 1946 four Sisters departed Castlebar to start a foundation in Leenane and over the years there they had the happiness of seeing a lovely new school and Convent replace the old buildings, and over the years that Convent was the holiday house for the Castlebar Sisters. Some time after Diocesan Amalgamation in 1971, it was decided to withdraw the Sisters from Leenane.
Clifden Convent was founded as a result of the endeavours of Dean McManus who considered that the only way of counteracting proselytism in the area was to request Sisters to come to this remote area. He actually built a Convent and on 16th July 1855 Sr. Teresa White, who had been a friend and confidante of Mother McAuley, and who had already helped to found quite a few Convents including Galway and Castlebar, arrived with four other Sisters in Clifden. As in so many other places the beginnings were very difficult, but fifteen postulants entered during the first ten years and the Sisters provided education, they cared for the sick and they opened an orphanage. All their ministries flourished over the years and on 17th October 1874, three Sisters including Sr. Teresa White, on this her last foundation in Carna, with two other Sisters took possession of a house vacated by Major Forbes and they immediately provided education for the children of the locality. In conjunction with the Congested Districts Board they initiated a Lace School. With time a knitting industry replaced the lace industry but through that school many, many girls from the locality earned enough money to enable them to emigrate, for Carna which is rich in spectacular scenery and gaelic culture is poor in relation to worldly goods and most people relied on help from relatives in America for everyday subsistence. Over the years the schools flourished so that when the Sisters departed Carna in 2000 they left behind a lovely Convent and thriving Primary and Community Schools.
Amalgamation: The documents emanating from Vatican II advocated appropriate renewal of Religious Life by a continuous return to the sources of all Christian Life and the charism of the Foundress, as well as an adjustment of community to the changed conditions of the times. As five separate entities in the Archdiocese of Tuam, as described above, there was no machinery to initiate change in compliance with Perfectae Caritatis and Ecclesia Sanctae, so with the help of Archbishop Joseph Cunnane and other theologians much preparation work was done and it all culminated in a process of amalgamation. The first General Chapter opened on 2nd August 1971 with the promulgation of the Decree by Archbishop Cunnane and the new Religious Congregation of Pontifical Rite came into being. In his closing address to the Sisters at the end of that Chapter Dr. Cunnane said:
“The task will not be finished this year or any year. You can never close your books again and say – ‘It is finished’.”
How right he was, but in spite of all kinds of vicissitudes we still go forward with hope in our hearts as we confront the new, the unfamiliar and the untried in the Kingdom, which for us is the only absolute.
Sample of old Gaelic script