Mother Vincent Whitty – her achievements have stood the test of time, writes Ray Cleere

Mother Mary Vincent Whitty, R.S.M., was an Irish eligious Sister known for her work in the Australian State of Queensland. She was a leading figure in the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy, both in Ireland and in its expansion into the then British colony of Australia.

Ellen Whitty, daughter and the third youngest of the six children of William Whitty and his wife Johanna (nee Murphy), was born in Poldharrigge, a village seven miles from Wexford town, 200 years ago, on March 1st, 1819, and baptised in Oylgate Church, near Enniscorthy on the same day.

On January 15th, 1839, and then aged 19, she entered the community of the Sisters of Mercy in Baggot Street, Dublin, a Roman Catholic Order for education and social work founded in 1831 by Catherine McAuley who prepared her for religious profession.

Six months later, on July 23rd, 1839, Ellen Whitty received the habit and the name, Sister Mary Vincent. On August 19th, 1841, she made her profession of vows, along with Mary Justine Fleming and four English Sisters for the Birmingham foundation. Those Sisters were the last group of novices who had the benefit of direct contact with and learning from the foundress.

Then aged 22 and professed less than three months, Ellen nursed Catherine McAuley in the weeks before her death in November 1841.

Ellen’s leadership and personal qualities were quickly recognised. In 1843, just thirteen months after her profession, Mother Vincent was appointed Mother Bursar of the Convent in Baggot Street, in Dublin. There she learned and carried out administrative duties which stood to her in good stead both at home and abroad.

She supervised the day to day running of the Baggot Street Convent and provided for and organised the preparation of Sisters who were setting out on new missions.

In May 1844, Mother Vincent was appointed Mistress of Novices, a position she held for five years. On the death in office of Mother Mary Cecilia Marimon in September 1849, Mother Vincent was elected Reverend Mother in Dublin.

She was elected for a second term in May 1852. During her six years in that office, she founded five new houses, one each in Loughrea, in County Galway; Athy, in County Kildare; Belfast City; Blandford Square, in London; and in Clifford in Yorkshire.
She established three institutions in Dublin for the care of neglected children and unmarried mothers, and began planning and fundraising for the Dublin Mater Hospital.

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