Cork's Mary Aikenhead is two steps away from sainthood

Mary Aikenhead: Photo: Religious Sisters of Charity/PA Wire

A Corkwoman has moved a step close to becoming a saint after Pope Francis declared her venerable.

Mary Aikenhead, born in Daunt’s Square in Cork in 1787, was one of seven people to be declared venerable yesterday at the Vatican.

It is the second of four steps in the Catholic Church’s canonisation process. It comes after the Pope approved permission for the person to begin the path to sainthood by declaring them a servant of God.

Mary Aikenhead was first recognised in 1921. Now, she is only two more steps away from becoming a saint. Her beatification, the next step, would be followed by canonisation.

She founded the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1815 to provide services to “the suffering poor”. The order is known for its work caring for those in need, including sick and homeless people, migrants, asylum-seekers, and prison inmates. It operates in Ireland, the UK, Zambia, California, Nigeria, Malawi, and Australia.

The order has been the centre of controversy in recent years, however, when it emerged as one of four religious congregations to run Magdalene laundries — workhouses for single mothers in Ireland.

In addition to the Sisters of Charity, Ms Aikenhead also founded St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, the first hospital in Ireland to be run by women to care for patients of all religions. It was also a place where doctors and nurses could receive training, and today it is the principal teaching hospital of UCD.

In 1838, she sent five colleagues to Australia, where they became the first nuns to set foot in the country.

“Mary Aikenhead was a woman ahead of her time”, said Sr Mary Christian, congregational leader of the Religious Sisters of Charity.

“[Her] life was not easy, but she never lost hope. Her life teaches and inspires us to dream courageous visions, to have compassion for human pain, to analyse unjust structures which are the cause of poverty, to work with others to solve problems and to remain resolute in the face of hardship.”

Mary Aikenhead now joins another Cork woman on the path to sainthood — Ballygriffin woman Nano Nagle.

The founder of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Presentation Sisters, Nano Nagle was declared venerable by Pope Francis in 2013.

Born in 1718, Nano Nagle established her first school in a mud cabin in Cove Lane, Cork in 1752, in defiance of the authorities.

She then built a network of schools that became the template for Catholic education in the country.

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