Bridget Hannan profiles the Waterford-born philanthropist and founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith


Margaret Aylward was born at 11, Thomas Street, Waterford, on 23 November, 1810. Her father, William Aylward, was a wealthy pork merchant and owned his own ships, while her mother’s family had extensive property. Her mother’s only brother, John Patrick Murphy (Uncle Murphy to his nieces and nephews) was a Christian Brother, a prominent member of Edmund Ignatius Rice’s young Congregation.

Since there were no schools in Waterford in this post-Famine era for the children of the Catholic middle class, Margaret attended a small private Quaker school. On her way to and from school she saw children who were living in poverty, hungry, barefoot and uneducated standing outside shops and at street corners begging from passers-by. Her reaction to their emaciated bodies and outstretched hands developed into a lifelong concern for children and families who were destitute.

Margaret continued her education as a boarder in Co. Tipperary with the Ursuline Sisters in Thurles until the age of 19 years. Trade had been declining for some time in Waterford and the townspeople were experiencing great hardship. Margaret helped her father to administer a low-interest loan scheme for the needy.

Margaret had family links with the Presentation Sisters who had established a ‘poor school’ in Waterford for girls. She went to work as a volunteer lay teacher in these schools. The Christian Brothers undertook to do for the boys what the Presentation sisters were doing for the girls. Margaret saw how the Christian Brothers in Waterford combined family relief and tuition for boys living in poverty.

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