The Sisters of Mercy came to Callan from Athy in December 1872, at the invitation of the Bishop of Ossary, Dr. Patrick Moran. Mother Michael Maher was the Foundress and six Sisters accompanied her also from Athy. They took up residence in Callan Lodge, which was later named St. Mary’s Convent.
In those days, like most other towns in Ireland, Callan was a poverty stricken town and the work of the Sisters was to care for the poor, the sick and the uneducated. They also gave religious instruction to both adults and children. They were referred to as “Ministering Angels”.
Canice Broderick and Nora Costigan with John the gardener, engaged in composting in the convent in Callan
The main work of the Sisters was the education of girls and they set up schools, which have continued to flourish to this day. In 1884 they also established what was referred to as a Missionary School, where many young women attend a preliminary novitiate for religious life. In its 70 odd years of existence of the 2000 that attended the vast majority entered Orders working on the foreign missions.
Today Sisters are still involved in education as well as visiting the sick of the area and working in the parish.
Bernadette O’Murphy, Rosarii Walsh and Joseph Fitzgerald
taking time in their garden
On 10th February 1873, four Sisters of Mercy – Srs. Gertrude Mooney, Philomena Keatly, Evangelist Keogh and Josephine Bennett – arrived from Shrewsbury in England to establish a convent in Borris-in-Ossory. Welcomed by the Bishop, Dr. Horan and the parish priest Fr. Birch, the Sisters took up residence in a house which had been occupied by the Loreto Sisters since May 1859. They had left in September 1868 to open a convent in Kilkenny city.
At that time Borris was a small village and the majority of the people were farmers. While times were hard, the people shared the little they had with the Sisters, as they were grateful for the presence of Sisters among them.
A primary school was opened in 1873 and was recognised by the Commissioners of Education. Attendance increased over the years and in 1968, nearly a hundred years later, a secondary school was opened. Then in 1965 a new primary school was opened.
The Sisters also engaged in pastoral and parish work in the area. They visited the sick in their homes and provided school lunches for those who needed them.
Even though the convent closed in October 2001, the Sisters still reside in the area and continue to work there today.
The Priest in Wexford, Fr. James Lucey, wanted to establish a convent in the town to offer education to the poor and to provide care for the many sick and dying. While responding to the many requests for new foundations was difficult, Catherine McAuley agreed to send Sisters to Wexford as it was still suffering the aftermath of the 1798 Rising. This rebellion against the presence of the British in the country was particularly severe in the Wexford area.
On 8th December 1840 four Sisters – Mary Teresa Kelly, Mary Gertrude Kinsella, Mary Aloysius Redmond and Mary Brigid Hacket set out from the Carlow foundation to go to Wexford. Such a journey today could take place in an hour. However in those days travel was much slower, usually by horse drawn coach. This proved tedious and difficult in the best of weather conditions. However on this day, particularly difficult conditions resulted in an accident along the way. The willingness of the coachman to go for help in nearby Enniscorthy made the completion of the journey possible.
Maura Bookle and Susan Kavanagh pictured with some of the residents outside the Westlands flats
Fr. Lucey had provided a house for the Sisters, but the winter was very severe, with water freezing and with very little heat. However, as in so many other places, local help saw them through. They got involved in education and visitation and are still present in the town today.