Margaret Anna Cusack

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Margaret Anna Cusack
Memorial to Margret
Born 6 May 1829
Mercer Street/York Street, Dublin, Ireland
Died 5 June 1899 (aged 70)
Leamington Spa, England, UK
Other names Sister Mary Francis Cusack
Mother Margaret
Occupation Foundress of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace religious congregation

Margaret Anna Cusack (born 6 May 1829[1] in a house at the corner of Mercer Street and York Street (now known as Cusack Corner),[2] Dublin, Ireland – died 5 June 1899), also known as Sister Mary Francis Cusack and Mother Margaret, was first an Irish Anglican nun, then a Roman Catholic nun, and then a Religious Sister, and the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. By 1870 more than 200,000 copies of her works which ranged from biographies of saints to pamphlets on social issues had circulated throughout the world, the proceeds from which went towards victims of the Great Irish Famine and helping to feed the poor.

Early life[edit]

Page from The Liberator: His Life and Times, Political, Social, and Religious on Daniel O'Connell
Emigrants Leave Ireland, engraving by Henry Doyle (1827–1893), from Mary Frances Cusack's An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800,[3] 1868.

Margaret Anna Cusack was born in Coolock, County Dublin into a family of Church of Ireland gentry.[4]

When she was a teenager, her parents separated and she went to live in Exeter with her grand-aunt, then in Devon where she joined the evangelical Christian Plymouth Brethren. At the age of 29 she was received into the Catholic Church and immediately joined the Poor Clares in Newry, County Down.

"Nun of Kenmare"[edit]

Motivated by the sudden death of her fiancé, Charles Holmes, she joined a convent of Puseyite Anglican nuns. However, disappointed at not being sent to the Crimean War she converted to Roman Catholicism and joined the Order of St. Clare (also known as the Poor Clares), a community of Franciscan nuns that taught poor girls. In 1861 she was sent with a small group of nuns to Kenmare, County Kerry, then one of the most destitute parts of Ireland, to establish a convent of Poor Clares.[citation needed]

She wrote 35 books, including many popular pious and sentimental texts on private devotions (A Nun's Advice to her Girls), poems, Irish history and biography, founding Kenmare Publications, through which 200,000 volumes of her works were issued in less than ten years. She kept two full-time secretaries for correspondence and wrote letters on Irish causes in the Irish, United States, and Canadian press.

In the famine year of 1871 she raised and distributed £15,000 in a famine relief fund. She publicly railed against landlords of the region, particularly Lord Lansdowne, who owned the lands around Kenmare, and his local agent. She was an outspoken Irish patriot, publishing The Patriot's History of Ireland, in 1869, though she later denied being associated with the Ladies' Land League. In 1872 she issued an account of the life of Daniel O'Connell, The Liberator: His Life and Times, Political, Social, and Religious. She left the Kenmare Poor Clares in November 1881. After leaving the convent, she began to establish shelters and vocational schools for female emigrants to the US and supported herself through lectures and writings.[citation needed]

Her transfer orders were for her to return to Newry, but she was determined to erect a convent in Knock, County Mayo, where she had gone to live. Archbishop McEvilly of Tuam finally granted permission for her to establish a convent at Knock. However, the archbishop wanted her to establish a community of Poor Clares whilst she intended to found an entirely new community called the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Deadlock ensued, and Mother Margaret was finally invited to establish the new religious congregation in the Diocese of Nottingham, so she left Ireland for good in 1884. In 1885 Bishop Bagshawe of Nottingham sent Margaret to the US to raise money for her foundation as well as to promote her work. Whilst there, she was invited to establish a community in the Diocese of Newark.[citation needed]


Her novels include Ned Rusheen, or, Who Fired the First Shot? (1871); and Tim O'Halloran's Choice (1877). She issued Advice to Irish Girls in America (1872), which deals mainly with tips and suggestions relating to the profession of domestic service. Cusack advised servant girls not to covet material possessions, to think of service as a way of serving Jesus, and to resist any attempts by their employers to convert them to Protestantism.[citation needed] In 1872 she wrote Honehurst Rectory, ridiculing Dr. Pusey and the other founders of the Puseyite order.[clarification needed] That year the entire edition of her Life of St. Patrick burned in a fire at her publishing office.

In 1878 The Trias Thaumaturga; or, Three Wonder-Working Saints of Ireland appeared, telling the lives of saints Patrick, Columba and Brigit. At the time of a supposed sensational apparition at Knock, she produced the pamphlet The Apparition at Knock; with the depositions of the witness[es] examined by the Ecclesiastical Commission appointed by His Grace the Archbishop of Tuam and the conversion of a young Protestant lady by a vision of the Blessed Virgin(1880).

She issued Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children in 1881, and wrote verse. She published more than fifty works, chief among which are A Student's History of Ireland; Woman's Work in Modern Society; Lives of Daniel O'Connell, St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Bridget; The Pilgrim's Way to Heaven; Jesus and Jerusalem; and The Book of the Blessed Ones. Her two autobiographies are The Nun of Kenmare (1888) and The Story of My Life (1893).

Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace[edit]

In 1884, during a personal interview with Pope Leo XIII to seek his support, Cusack obtained permission to leave the Poor Clares and found a new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, intended for the establishment and care of homes for friendless girls, where domestic service would be taught and moral habits inculcated.

She opened the first house of the new order in Nottingham, England and in 1885, a similar house in Jersey City, New Jersey, the first foundation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace in the United States. She aimed to seek funds for her work with women and children. The earnings of her most notable writings – Lives of Irish Saints and Illustrated History of Ireland of 1868 – supported her convent. As of 2014 the congregation she founded had communities in Great Britain, Canada, Haiti, Ireland and the USA.

Departure from the Catholic Church and death[edit]

In 1888 she returned to the Anglican Communion after an altercation with her bishop and issued The Nun of Kenmare: An Autobiography the following year. Afterwards she wrote and lectured as tirelessly as ever: The Black Pope: History of the Jesuits, What Rome Teaches (1892) and Revolution and War, the secret conspiracy of the Jesuits in Great Britain (published posthumously, 1910).

She died on 5 June 1899, aged 70, and was buried in a Church of England-reserved burial site at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England.



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