|Margaret Anna Cusack|
6 May 1832|
Coolock, County Dublin, Ireland
5 June 1899 (aged 67)|
Leamington Spa, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Foundress of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace religious congregation|
Margaret Anna Cusack was born in Coolock, County Dublin, Ireland into an aristocratic family and was raised in the Church of Ireland. When Margaret was a teenager her parents separated and she went to live with her grand-aunt in Exeter, Devon where she joined the Plymouth Brethren. At the age of 29 she was received into the Catholic Church and immediatey joined the Poor Clares in Newry, County Down.
"Nun of Kenmare"
During her stay at Kenmare she dedicated herself to her writings, which ranged from biographies of saints to pamphlets on social issues.
By 1870, more than 200,000 copies of her works had circulated throughout the world. The money made from her publications went towards the Great Irish Famine and helping to feed the poor. Her success in helping the poor and her outspoken ways made her a topic of interest for the government and the Church of England. Her next endeavour was to found another convent.
Motivated by the sudden death of her fiancé, Charles Holmes, she joined a convent of Puseyite Anglican nuns. However, being disappointed not to be sent to the Crimea she converted to Roman Catholicism and joined the Order of St. Clare (also known as the Poor Clares), a community of Franciscan nuns who 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.
She fought for her own personal rights and for Irish patriots, but made no demands for women's rights in general, was opposed to co-education and is thought to have believed academic degrees were wasted on women.
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 under ten years. She kept two fulltime secretaries occupied for correspondence, wrote letters on Irish causes in the Irish, American, 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 a life of Daniel O'Connell, The Liberator: His Life and Times, Political, Social, and Religious.
She was unpopular with some Roman Catholics, but seems to have enjoyed from the beginning the sympathy of most of the leading Catholics, lay and clerical, in Ireland. Predictably perhaps, because of her increasing political and social interest outside the convent, life became intolerable and she left the Kenmore Poor Clares in November 1881. After leaving the convent, she began to establish shelters and vocational schools for female emigrants to the U.S. and supported herself through her lectures and writings.
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. After pressuring Archbishop McEvilly of Tuam she finally received permission to establish a convent in 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 in order to raise money for her foundation as well as to promote the her work. Whilst in the US, she was invited to establish a community in the Diocese of Newark.
In 1872 she wrote Honehurst Rectory, ridiculing Dr. Pusey and the other founders of the Puseyite order. In 1872 the entire edition of her Life of St. Patrick burned in a fire at the publishing office. 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.
In 1878 appeared The Trias Thaumaturga; or, Three Wonder-Working Saints of Ireland telling the lives of saints Patrick, Columba and Brigit. At the time of a sensational supposed 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 (1881), wrote verse, issued lives of St. Patrick, Columba and Brigid as Trias Taumaturga: The Wonder-working Saints of Ireland (1878). 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. Two autobiographies are The Nun of Kenmare (1888), The Story of My Life (1893).
Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
In 1884, during a personal interview with Pope Leo XIII in order 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 at Nottingham, 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 (1868) - supported her convent. Today, the congregation she founded remains committed to working for peace and justice and this is the main ministry of the sisters. There are communities in the United Kingdom, Canada, Haiti, Ireland and the USA.
Departure from Roman Catholic Church
In 1888 she returned to the Anglican Communion after an altercation with her bishop and soon issued The Nun of Kenmare: An Autobiography (1889). 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).