Mother Francis Clare: Foundress
of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
Margaret Anna Cusack was born to an aristocratic family of English origin in Coolak, County Dublin, Ireland. Her father was a doctor who was dedicated to the service of the poor.
She was raised under the precepts of the Church of England and viewed social justice through Christian concepts. In 1853 she joined the Anglican Sisterhood. She quickly became disillusioned with what she considered the petty concerns of the group. Upon leaving five years later, she wrote, "I do not believe in offering the gospel of talk to starving people."
In 1858 she became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church. One year later she entered the Order of Poor Clare nuns and took the name Mother Francis Clare.
A fierce advocate of social justice
The year 1861 brought Mother Clare to Kenmare in Ireland, where she founded the first convent of the Poor Clares in the west of Ireland. A talented writer, she published on the issues of social injustice. Her writings and actions focused on advocacy of women's rights including equal pay, equal opportunity for education, and legal reform to give women control of their own property.
The Irish Famine of 1879 plunged the country into crisis. Margaret Anna responded by raising great sums of money to feed the poor. By now her outspoken ways and success at feeding the poor made her the target of scorn from government and church leadership. Church and public resistance forced her to shut down her Famine Relief Fund and look to England for support of her vision.
Her next effort was to establish another convent and to propose development of an industrial school for women, complete with a day center for their children.
Arrival in America
In 1884 Margaret Anna founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Seeking funds to support her sisters' work with women and children, in 1885 she set off for America. Soon after arriving, she established a home for migrant women who, upon arrival in New York, often found themselves to be homeless and jobless.
The success of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace spread. By 1890 the Sisters were being asked to go west to serve the needs of frontier settlements springing up in the Pacific Northwest. It was in August of this year that two Sisters set off from New Jersey, on what was to be the beginning of PeaceHealth and the continuation of the vision of Margaret Anna Cusack.
Learn more about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.