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Born at Belbrook House, Mountrath, Queen's County, Ireland, 1810; died at Manchester, N.H., 17 September, 1884. Left motherless in infancy, she was confined to the care of a maternal grant-aunt who undertook the formation of her religious character according to the method of Fénelon. Naturally of a gay disposition, she was carried away by the frivolities of fashionable life until her scruples led her to confide in her director. She followed his advice in offering her services to the foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, whom she assisted in instructing the little inmates of the House for Homeless Children recently erected. Assuming the plain black habit of the institution in 1828, she conducted the affairs of the home while Mother McAuley and two foundress companions were making their novitiate in the Presentation Convent of George's Hill preparatory to the founding of the new congregation. After their return as professed Sisters of Mercy she and six companions assumed the garb of the congregation.
In 1837 Sister Mary Francis Xavier was appointed superior of the convent at Carlow, which had been built under her supervision and was the first house of the congregation outside of Dublin. In 1839 she founded the convent of Naas and in 1840 that of Weyford, to which soon after its establishment the public orphan asylum was affiliated. From Wexford foundations have been sent out as far as Australia. The convent of Sligo is perhaps the most noteworthy of her Irish foundations on account of its flourishing training-school for teachers. In 1843 Bishop O'Connor of Pittsburgh applied to Carlow for a foundation for his diocese, and Mother Warde with a band of six left for America. At Pittsburgh the sisters took charge of the cathedral Sunday school and the instruction of adults. Mother Warde's power of language and sympathy allied to ardent zeal won many to the Church. Parochial schools and academies, visitation of the sick poor in their houses and in the poor house, visitation of the penitentiary, and the opening of the first hospital in Pittsburgh followed each other in rapid succession. In 1846 a foundation was made in Chicago in compliance with Mother Warde's promise to Bishop Quarter. In 1848 she opened a second branch house in the Alleghanies on land given by the Reverend Demetrius Gallitzin within the limits of his Catholic settlement of Loretto. In 1850, though the "Knownothings" had recently burned the convent of the Ursulines near Boston, Mother Warde accepted the invitation of Bishop O'Reilly of Hartford to open a house in Providence. After the sisters' installation a mob surrounded the convent, threatening them with death if they would not immediately vacate the premises. Mother Warde exacted a promise from each of their Catholic defenders that no shot would be fired except in self defence, and the sisters held possession of the convent. One of the rioters had remarked to his companions:
We made our plans without reckoning the odds we shall have to contend with in the strong controlling force the presence of that nun commands. The only honourable course for us is to retreat from this ill-conceived fray. I, for one, shall not lift a hand to harm these ladies.
In 1852 Mother Warde opened houses in Hartford and New Haven to which free schools were attached; later on academies were opened and the works of mercy inaugurated. In 1854 Mrs. Goodloe Harper, daughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, donated to the congregation a house and some ground at Newport, R.I., for a convent and schools. Her daughter, Miss Emily Harper, was also a generous benefactor. In 1857 free and select schools were opened at Rochester, and later at Buffalo, by desire of Bishop Timon. On 16 July, 1858, Mother Warde and a band of missionaries left Providence for Manchester, by invitation of Bishop Bacon of Portland, and there established night schools for factory children. St. Mary's Academy was opened the same year. In 1861, at the request of Bishop Wood, Mother Warde opened a convent at Philadelphia, where free schools and the works of mercy were instituted. In 1864 a foundation was sent to Omaha; in 1865 a branch house and schools were opened at Bangor, Maine; in 1871 a colony of sisters was sent to Yreka, California, and North Whitefield Mission, Maine, was undertaken by Mother Warde, who likewise sent foundations to Jersey City, Bordentown, and Princeton, N.J. In 1857 Bishop Bacon requested her to open an orphanage in Portland, but a disastrous fire delayed the work until 1872, when the Burlington foundation had been begun. The Kavanagh School was given to the sisters by Miss Winifred Kavanagh; an academy was also opened at Portland. On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 1878, Mother Warde sent the sisters to labour among the Indians of Maine at Old Town, Pleasant Point, and Dana's Point. The Government builds the schools houses and pays the sisters salaries for teaching the Indian children. Mother Warde's last works were the opening of an Old Ladies' Home and a Young Ladies' Academy at Deering, Maine. At the time of her golden jubilee in 1883 Mother Warde was the oldest Sister of Mercy living. Her salient characteristics were great purity of heart, earnestness of purpose, sincerity, and large-mindedness. She was exceedingly reserved, but sympathizing and compassionate towards others. Endowed with rare common-sense, she was an optimist in all things. In appearance she was of medium height, erect, and of commanding presence; her forehead was high, and her blue eyes deeply set.
Life of Mother M. Xavier Warde (Manchester); Annals of Sisters of Mercy, III-IV.
APA citation. (1912). Mary Francis Xavier Warde. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15553a.htm
MLA citation. "Mary Francis Xavier Warde." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15553a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to my grandmother, Mary Loretta Ashley Barrett.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.