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Pope puts Irish nun who helped 'the suffering poor' on path to sainthood

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Mary Aikenhead

Mary Aikenhead

Pope Francis arrives at St Peter's square in the Vatican to lead his weekly general audience yesteday. Photo: Getty

Pope Francis arrives at St Peter's square in the Vatican to lead his weekly general audience yesteday. Photo: Getty

AFP/Getty Images

St Vincent's Hospital

St Vincent's Hospital

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Mary Aikenhead

Pope Francis has put an Irish nun, who founded St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin in 1834, on the road to sainthood.

Mother Mary Aikenhead, who established the Religious Sisters of Charity 200 years ago this year to help "the suffering poor", was declared Venerable in Rome yesterday, setting her on the path to canonisation.

She and her Sisters were the first nuns to visit prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol in the early 19th Century.

Her institute today has its headquarters in Harold's Cross in Dublin and 400 nuns serve in Ireland, England, Scotland, Zambia, California, Nigeria and Malawi, with another 145 in Australia.

Sr Mary Christian, Congregational Leader, described Mary Aikenhead as "a woman ahead of her time".

"All around her she saw the plight of people who were poor and suffering. Her life teaches and inspires us to have compassion for human pain, analyse unjust structures which are the cause of poverty, work with others to solve problems and remain resolute in the face of hardship," she said.

Born in Cork in April 1787, Venerable Mary Aikenhead was baptised an Anglican as her father was a member of the Church of Ireland. She was later received into the Catholic Church when she was 15.

She opened her first Catholic school for poor children in Dublin's Gardiner Street in 1830. The order is still involved in education today in schools such as Stanhope Street primary school in inner city Dublin.

Mary Aikenhead died in Dublin in 1858 and is buried in the cemetery attached to St Mary Magdalen's in Donnybrook.

St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin is one of the top teaching hospitals in the country.

The order is still the trustee for the St Vincent's Hospital Group, which includes St Vincent's University Hospital, Elm Park, St Michael's Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, and St Vincent's Private Hospital in Herbert Avenue.

St Vincent's was originally located on St Stephen's Green and it was the first hospital run by women to care for patients of all creeds and where doctors and nurses could receive training. It moved to Elm Park in 1970.

The Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre, which contains archives on the Irish nun's life and care for the sick and poor, is located in Harold's Cross, where she spent her last years.

Irish Independent