Mary Ignatia Gavin, C.S.A., was an Irish-born American Religious Sister, better known as Sister Ignatia, belonging to the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, who served as a nurse. In the course of her work she became involved in the care of those suffering from alcoholism, working with Dr. Bob Smith, a co-founder of what became Alcoholics Anonymous. In this work she became known as the alcoholic’s ‘Angel of Hope’, writes MARGARET SMITH.
One day during the 1930’s, a nun, Sister Ignatia Gavin, received a phone call from ‘Bill’ who told her that he was going to have to return his Sacred Heart badge because “I’ve had a rough morning and I’m going out to get a drink.” The Sister sighed then told him, “Don’t do it. Wait until you finish work at 5 o’clock and then call me again. I’ll pray for you. Whatever you do, don’t send that badge back.”
At 5 o’clock, Bill rang back. “It’s OK, Sister. I never took that drink, I think I’m going to be alright now thanks to the Sacred Heart and you.”
Such telephone calls were not uncommon because Sister Ignatia had ministered to thousands of men and women who had succumbed to alcoholism for many years. Many now regard her as one of the founders of America’s Alcoholics Anonymous. She wasn’t an American though, she was Irish, born Della Mary Gavin on 1 January 1889, to Barbara Neary and her husband who lived on a small parcel of farmland called Gavin’s Field, in Shanvalley, Burren, Co. Mayo.
In the spring of 1896 her parents and other family members left Ireland in the hope of a better life in America, eventually settling in Cleveland, Ohio. Della was a talented musician who gave private lessons to help bolster the family income.