Mother Mary Vincent Whitty

A biography written by Pauline Smoothy rsm

Ellen Whitty, daughter of William Whitty and Johanna, née Murphy, was born in Poldharrigge, Co. Wexford on 1 March 1819 and baptised in Oylegate church, near Enniscorthy on the same day.1 She entered the community of the Sisters of Mercy in Baggot Street, Dublin on 15 January 1839. Six months later, Ellen Whitty received the habit and the name, Sister Mary Vincent, on 23 July 1839. She made her profession of vows on 19 August 1841, along with Mary Justina Fleming and four English sisters for the Birmingham foundation. These sisters were the last group of novices to have the benefit of direct contact with and learning from the foundress. Furthermore, the Novice Mistress of the time, Mother Mary Cecilia Marmion, having been absent in Birr recuperating from illness, for several months during the time of the young novice’s formation, they experienced directly the teaching and advice of the foundress. As Catherine’s death approached it was this young Sister, aged just 22 and professed less than three months, who cooked light and nourishing dishes to tempt her failing appetite, who sat with her during the night, who carried out her final instructions and who across the space of five days wrote to Cecilia Marmion, who was by this time assisting the foundation in Birmingham, detailed accounts of Catherine’s illness and death. SM Vincent read the final prayers with the woman who was “our dear dear parent”2 and model and had as she puts it, the ‘pleasing though melancholy consolation to …close her eyes and that mouth from which I had received such instruction.’Such experiences cannot but have had a profound and lasting influence on the young SM Vincent. It is small wonder then that Mother Vincent was imbued with the charism of the foundress and the spirit of the Order which was at the time just short of ten years old.

Unlike the venerable foundress, Mother Vincent wrote no rule and left little by the way of writing about her own inner life or advice to others in how to live a life of holiness. Her biographer finds that, ‘Far from being a good letter-writer, she was rather inarticulate,’4 and notes that her ‘hasty missives prove limited in scope…nor do they reveal a notable intellectual force or theological depth.’5 Added to this is the fact that for the most part, at least while she was in Dublin, her spiritual advisers were near at hand, obviating the need for written correspondence. There are also enormous gaps in the correspondence we do have. We are left to read between the lines to discern how the life of this Sister – Reverend Mother, Novice Mistress, missionary foundress – can be an example to those who followed her.

Mother Vincent and the Spirit of the Foundress

Catherine McAuley was establishing a new community in Limerick and visiting the fledgling community in Carlow and therefore absent from Baggot Street when Ellen Whitty presented herself there to arrange to enter the Sisters of Mercy. Catherine writes of her, ‘…a new Sister was concluded for this day from the Co. Wexford. She comes in a week….She will not be 20 till next month Very pleasing and musical.’6 On the day of her death as she took leave of Sister Mary Vincent, the foundress predicted that Vincent would accomplish much for the reign of God.7

On the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy 1860, Mother Vincent presented to the then Reverend Mother of Baggot Street copies some of Catherine McAuley’s manuscripts, along with a couple of versions of Catherine’s life and work. In writing of Catherine, Mother Vincent reveals the qualities she admired in the foundress and therefore sought to emulate herself.  She finds ‘words are slow and imperfect in conveying all the lineaments of that gifted soul – she was so humble yet dignified, so playful and witty, yet reserved and charitable, so pious and strict, yet amiable and kind, but to me at least the climax of her attraction was that she was always the same, always ready to listen, to consider and to direct whenever applied to.’8 Evidently, Mother Vincent learned those lessons well. Letters written after her death in 1892 speak of her as a second foundress, revered, loved and esteemed all over the Mercy Institute; of her kindly example; of the directness and simplicity of her prayer; of her affectionate welcome to all who came for advice or comfort; of her calm and peaceful demeanour belying an energy for all things related to ministry and mission.

Ministry in Baggot Street, Dublin

Just thirteen months after her profession, Mother Vincent was appointed Mother Bursar of the Convent in Baggot Street. Here she was to learn and carry out administrative duties which were to stand her in good stead both at home and abroad, supervising the day to day running of the Baggot St household, providing for Sisters setting out on new missions and, according to one of their number, even seeing to it that the altar-boys were well-fed after morning liturgical ceremonies.  Very soon, however, her qualities of mind and heart saw her appointed to another vital ministry within the Institute. In May 1844, Mother Vincent was appointed Mistress of Novices, entrusted introducing new members into the traditions and life of the Institute and with them discerning their vocation. She held this position until she was elected Reverend Mother in 1849 and again from shortly after the conclusion of her term as Reverend Mother in 1855 until she set out for Brisbane. She was also to carry out this ministry in Brisbane several years later. Unfortunately there exists no correspondence written during her term of office as Mistress of Novices in Dublin, so we are reliant on later accounts in which Sisters who had been ‘her’ novices recall memories of their novitiate days. One of the more prominent of Mother Vincent’s former novices was Mother Liguori Keenan who was herself to serve several terms as Reverend Mother in Baggot Street. During one of her terms as Reverend Mother in Dublin, she writes to Mother Vincent referring to herself as one of Mother Vincent’s ‘dear old children’ and recalling, ‘We have many a chat about our happy Noviciate days, and always wind up by saying ‘There never was and never will be such a Mistress of Novices as your loved old self.’ ….there never was a Mother so loved.’9 When Mother Vincent died a Carmelite Sister wrote to express her sympathy and also proffered the opinion that, ‘Her thirty years of duty in Queensland was great, but her previous work of forming so many young Religious to the spirit of their vocation was almost greater.’10 Dr Andrew Quinn, Parish Priest of Athy and brother to Bishops James and Matthew Quinn credits her with, during her time as Novice Mistress, ‘filling Baggot St with real nuns.’11

The period of the mid-1840s to the mid-1850s was one of great expansion for the Sisters of Mercy. This meant that in many cases, the founding party of Sisters included novices or Sisters who had not long been professed. It is from their correspondence that we are able to form some idea of the qualities Mother Vincent, Mistress of Novices, brought to this position. Mother Ursula Frayne, foundress of Perth, thanks Mother Vincent for the ‘good novices’ she brought with her to Perth. Letters from the novices themselves reveal an affectionate bond and an ease of communication between the older Sister and the younger and gratitude for the enlightenment and encouragement that Mother Vincent as their mentor had passed on to them, anticipating by more than a century the Church’s advice to those charged with the formation of those who are considering the call to the religious life.12 For her part, having left the position of Mistress of Novices in order to set out on her mission to Brisbane, she carries with her a concern for those she has left behind. ‘I am sure my poor novices are ever so good,’13 she writes, whilst M Liguori Keenan laments almost thirty years later the suddenness of her departure from them, ‘Shall I ever forget you left us all against the will of everyone.’14

This is not to say that Mother Vincent was inclined to compromise or expediency in dealing with those trying to discern their call to religious life. She is quite definite that she ‘was not at all sorry to hear of the departure of Novices and Postulants [from Baggot Street]; whenever they are unfit for duties, or unsettled in their own minds, they injure others and lose their own time’15 and reports regularly her concerns about the dispositions of those in her care, proving herself a perceptive judge of character. The rather austere MM Bridget Conlan, herself one of MM Vincent’s novices, having been received into the novitiate en route to Brisbane, warned MM Vincent about being too gentle in correcting the faults of those in her charge, ‘Now, in this case – my dearest Mother Vincent – it will be necessary for you to be on your guard against your disposition to justify all delinquents.’16 Mother Vincent was, however, quite capable of sternness should she deem the fault required it. SM Benignus Stritch who was not one of Mother Vincent’s novices, having come to Queensland during Mother Vincent’s extended time as Mother Assistant,  recalls, ‘Father Byrne thinks you have the kindest and mildest of hearts…. he thinks you can't give a good scolding at all, but I'll never forget one you gave me.  It terrified me - and what killed me out and out was - when you met me in an hour or two after you put on your sweetest of smiles, kissed me, and said ‘Well dear how are you now?’  Of course I had to smile, I could not resist.’17

Reverend Mother, Dublin

On the death in office of MM Cecilia Marmion in September 1849, Mother Vincent was elected Reverend Mother in Dublin, an eventuality for which she was probably unprepared at the time. She was elected for a second term in May 1852. Her terms of office were marked by continued expansion of the Order, the foundations from the Dublin motherhouse alone being Loughrea, Ireland; Blandford Square, London; Athy, Ireland; Belfast, Ireland and Clifford in Yorkshire. This was not expansion for the sake of expansion itself, but always for the sake of mission. Often, too, requests for expansion had to be refused, again for the sake of effective mission. The foundation to Belfast could be seen as a particularly courageous decision. She confides to Archbishop Cullen, ‘I am still begging of God to put some obstacles in the way if it is not His will [that] I should go to Belfast…. This world is very censorious about poor nuns and the zeal they ought to have. It is one of my little rules never to repeat these things but I believe I ought to tell you.’18 Some of her fears were realised when even before the Sisters had arrived one of the Protestant gentlemen began to preach about them in a derogatory way. Mother Vincent concluded that his preaching, far from discouraging them, had done them much good and so they carried on with the work they had come to do – visiting the sick, instructing girls, especially those who worked in factories, for whom she arranged classes in the evening and for which they were grateful. As she would do later in Brisbane, when she was attacked via newspaper articles there, she decided that the best response was no response. Besides, in Belfast she and her Sisters were too busy setting up the house, scrubbing and cleaning, to be concerned by what was being said about them in the city.19

Another courageous and innovative step Mother Vincent took during her term as Reverend Mother was to commit her Sisters to minister in a theatre of war. Not that she committed individual Sisters; rather this group was to be drawn from volunteers from various Convents in Ireland and England. She had already sent Sisters to France to study methods of nursing in anticipation of opening a Mater hospital in Dublin and to equip them for service in Dublin’s Jervis Street hospital for which she had been asked to take over management. Having heard of the French Sisters already ministering in the Crimea, she decided to ask for volunteers from amongst the Sisters of Mercy for a mission which she hopes ‘will be of service to the Catholic cause in Ireland hereafter.’20 She therefore requests ‘sensible good Sisters who are likely to do well and glorify God.’21 To the Vicar General of the Dublin Archdiocese she elaborates on her motivation for offering Sisters for this mission, the relief of suffering and dedication to the mission of the Institute: ‘We have heard with great pain of the sufferings of our countrymen engaged as soldiers in the East….Attendance on the sick … is part of our Institute and sad experience amongst the poor has convinced us that … many lives are lost for the want of careful nursing.’22 Within two months fourteen Sisters from Ireland and England had begun to minister in the Crimea, joining the six from Bermondsey who had already arrived as members of the party of Florence Nightingale and under the leadership of MM Clare (Georgiana) Moore. One of the two volunteers from Baggot Street for the second mission to the Crimea under the leadership of MM Francis Bridgeman, was her own sister, SM Agnes (Anne) Whitty. Another was SM Elizabeth Hercy who was later to follow MM Vincent to the Brisbane foundation.

During her term as Reverend Mother, Mother Vincent was also responsible for the purchase of the land on which the Mater Hospital in Dublin was built. By the time the hospital was opened, however, Mother Vincent had been in Brisbane for several months, having arrived there, along with another five sisters, on 10 May, 1861 in the company of the first Bishop of Brisbane, James Quinn of Dublin.

Mother Vincent, Missionary Foundress

In the midst of the activity of her duties as Reverend Mother and later, Mistress of Novices, Mother Vincent was discerning her own call to serve in a mission outside of Ireland. She had been a novice in Baggot Street when the inaugural Bishop of Charleston USA had offered Mass there and called for volunteers for his diocese. She had similarly been inspired by Bishop Pompallier of Auckland when he requested a foundation, but again the community was so committed to ministry at home that overseas missions could not at that time be considered. Sisters of Mercy did in fact answer the call to New Zealand during Mother Vincent’s term of office as Reverend Mother in Dublin; however, the foundation was made from Carlow.

As soon as he was appointed Bishop of Brisbane, James Quinn set about finding Sisters who would be prepared to accompany him on this mission. Mother Vincent for her part reflected ‘that the offer of a Mission again and again is like a call from God to labour for the souls there.’23 She urged the Reverend Mother to consider letting two or three Sisters go to Brisbane adding ‘I know the difficulties of new Missions are very great, but I cannot help trusting to the Providence of God, which provided so wonderfully since I entered religion for any duty I had the care of.’24 She reminds her superior, ‘my wish for a mission is not the feeling of a moment but the steady desire of twenty years and the troubles and difficulties of missions have never lessened my desire to go on one …. I wish to go and feel confident God will protect me and be with me and not give me more to suffer in his sweet service than he gives me strength to bear.’25 She leaves the decision to the ‘consciences’ of the Reverend Mother and the Archbishop, urging her superior to be generous and asking God to direct her in her decision. For her own part, she has two slight reservations: ‘I do not know if Dr Quinn even likes me,’26 and ‘the probability of having little to do.’27 The Chapter of the Sisters in Baggot Street having refused to release her for the Brisbane mission and the passage having been booked for early December, by late November Mother Vincent is visiting various convents in Ireland, seeking volunteers – without success. Bishop Quinn appealed to Archbishop Cullen to overturn the community decision and on the last day of November 1860, the Baggot Street community gave their blessing to the mission, appointing the newly professed SM Benedict McDermott, novice SM Cecilia McAuliffe and two postulants Emily Conlan and Jane Townsend to accompany her. The party left Ireland on 3 December 1860. SM Catherine Morgan of Liverpool joined them at very short notice as they were about to sail from that port on 8 December, 1860.

Reliance on Divine Providence, acknowledgement of that Providence and discerning the will of God by frequent examination of her own motives form a constant refrain in the life of Mother Vincent, along with an extraordinary sense of mission. Her brother, eminent Jesuit, Robert Whitty discerns this too, writing to their sister, SM Agnes on the eve of Mother Vincent’s departure from Dublin, he reflects, ‘(T)he more I consider it, the more I feel … she is obeying a call from God and not doing her own will.  You must have yourself perceived the craving she has had for a long time to go on a foreign Mission.  With her there is no reason whatever to suspect any secret desire of change, any curiosity, any ambition  -  quite the contrary of all this.’28 He cautions that the mission may not necessarily be marked by success: ‘How often does it happen that a missioner going out seems to do nothing, to leave nothing to record, only a wild goose chase and a deal of disappointment and suffering, and yet his failure may be a necessary step in the future success of others after him.’29 Mother Vincent has thought of this eventuality, too and writes from the ‘Convent of Divine Providence’ aboard the Donald McKay about to sail from the Liverpool dock, ‘I cannot help but feel grateful to God for asking this sacrifice of me though my mission should be a complete failure.’30

Consumed by zeal for the mission, Mother Vincent, still on the voyage to Brisbane, begins to request more Sisters to join her little community, provoking a terse response from the Reverend Mother in Baggot Street, ‘I begged of her not to continue writing such urgent pressing letters to them to join her as they were only calculated to upset their minds and to unfit them for their duties. I assured her as soon as we could spare Sisters we would give her help. I am pained to find she is so very importunate knowing as she well does how we are circumstanced with regard to Sisters…. You will tell me keep the Sisters for our own works. I assure you my dear Lord one here has as much work as the whole six in Brisbane.’31 Such a response was no deterrent to Mother Vincent. If the work of the mission was at stake, she would continue to be ‘importunate’ and repeated over and over her request for Sisters to join her, even to the extent of naming those she considered would be ‘useful’. But they must also be ‘full of missionary spirit.’32

In Brisbane, Mother Vincent’s first priority was the education of poor children and the care of the many who were orphaned. Her Sisters taught in Brisbane and surrounding areas, eventually founding schools farther afield in distant parts of Queensland.  She secured land at Nudgee, to the north of the city of Brisbane, for the building of St Vincent’s orphanage and was also responsible for the establishment of Holy Cross Home and Laundry at Wooloowin for the care and employment of women and girls. Her dream was to establish a Mater Hospital in Brisbane, but as with the Mater Hospital in Dublin, it was left to those who followed her to realise this dream.

In particular Mother Vincent wanted someone who could relieve her of the duties of Mistress of Novices as she found it too taxing combining that role with the role of Reverend Mother.

Mother Vincent’s relief from the duties of Mistress of Novices came from an unexpected source. In 1863, Bishop Quinn appointed the inexperienced SM Bridget Conlan, herself professed only a very short time, to the position. Emily Conlan had been received as a novice aboard ship as the party sailed to Brisbane and could hardly therefore be deemed to have had a ‘normal’ novitiate formation herself. It seems that MM of Mercy in Baggot Street was surprised with the rapidity with which SM Bridget was professed and chided MM Vincent on that account. Mother Vincent responds that she will be ‘doubly surprised’ at her new appointment and assures the Baggot Street Reverend Mother, ‘I am solicitous on this same point – still, I trust God and obedience will supply her want of experience by not living in an established Community, her want of knowledge of many of her duties of the Institute, and want of a regular Noviciate herself.  These are of course, manifest wants, but she is herself extremely pious and orderly, with a great love for religious discipline.’33

Mother Vincent had already, apparently, a sense of unease in regard to her own position. She wrote to Mother Mary of Mercy in ‘I fear you hear strange accounts of the Mission – it is true we have our anxieties and troubles, but what Mission or even good work was established without them? It is not want of confidence in you or any of my darling Sisters in Baggot Street that prevents my writing to you about my feelings, etc, but darling Rev Mother, what would be the use?’34 A few days later the Bishop wrote to Mother Vincent, ‘You express a hope that every thing is settled perfectly to my satisfaction. I must tell you my dear Revd. Mother that I am full of apprehension for the success of the community. I must tell you too that you are the cause of that apprehension.’35

In 1865, Mother Vincent set out from Brisbane with the intention of returning to Ireland to recruit more Sisters for the Brisbane mission. She took with her on this mission the first Queensland Sister of Mercy, SM de Sales (Jane) Gorry. They had reached Hobart when Bishop Quinn sent an emissary in the person of Father Robert Dunne to order her to return to Brisbane. It would appear that in the absence of the guiding hand and steadying influence of Mother Vincent the dissatisfaction between the Bishop and the community had reached crisis point. The Bishop deemed Mother Vincent to be responsible. On 11 March 1865 Bishop Quinn not only ritually deposed her from office but also deprived her of any say in the affairs of the community for the ensuing twelve months. Sisters who spoke in support of Mother Vincent were likewise banned from any voice in the affairs of the community. If Mother Vincent felt any resentment at her treatment at the hands of the Bishop there is in existence no correspondence to support this. The only hint comes from her brother, Father Robert Whitty who advises her some months later, ‘’Tis only when we learn to refer all to one - to look ever up to the one blue deep unfathomable sky of God's will, that we can hope to have peace within.’36 Further correspondence from Robert indicates that she confided in him and sought his counsel and support, asking that he communicate with her regularly. Bishop Quinn for his part asserted in a letter to the same Archbishop Cullen whose influence he had enlisted in order to persuade the Dublin community to release Mother Vincent for his mission, not five years before: ‘Mrs Whitty’s training is the cause of the irregularity committed by these two excellent young Sisters [both of whom had come on the original foundation] ….Mrs Whitty should not have been in office for years before she left Baggot Street.’37 To his brother Bishop Matthew Quinn he writes, ‘The discipline of the house is in thorough good order … Sister M Vincent Whitty is in the best of dispositions. Her removal from office was conducive to her spiritual and temporal welfare, and also to the spiritual and temporal welfare of the community.’38

In 1870 Bishop Quinn attended the First Vatican Council. On his return to Ireland to recruit priests for his mission, he was dismayed to find that word had travelled ahead of him and not one priest or seminary student volunteered, forcing him to look to the continent for recruits. Furthermore, priests and bishops were advising parents and religious superiors not to allow their daughters and subjects to volunteer for Brisbane. Bishop Quinn sent for Mother Vincent. He appointed her Mother Assistant, an office she was to hold until her death, and urged her to bring with her on her return to Brisbane in 1873, not only Sisters but priests and immigrants. On her arrival in Ireland, Mother Vincent found she had not only to refute the rumours concerning Bishop Quinn but that the Reverend Mother of Baggot Street itself was reluctant to receive her, since she and her ‘‘returned convicts’ from Brisbane’39 ‘would disturb very much the peace and happiness which – thank God - exists in this community.’40 She is reassuring concerning the reports concerning the death of SM Cecilia McAuliffe, ‘he [the Bishop] was more than a father to her….It is perfectly untrue that she had any feelings of antagonism towards our Bishop. It is equally untrue that His Lordship or Reverend Mother were unkind to me.’41 She is equally reassuring about the future happiness of any Sister who volunteers for the distant mission, ‘I would not take Sisters to Queensland if I believed that they could not be as happy there as in Ireland and I have no doubt that anyone who earnestly desires her own perfection and the instruction of children will be as happy in Queensland as they can be in any part of the world. I am delighted to find dear SM Xavier so true a missioner; we must not mind such reports but work on independently of anything that can be said of us. Almighty God knows we are working for him.’42

This is not to indicate that Mother Vincent was passive or non-assertive. She had taken to heart the maxim of Catherine McAuley which she had quoted to MM of Mercy Norris in September 1860: ‘Never think of self.’43 Besides, she once wryly observed, quoting her own patron saint, “we are generally ‘the carpenters of our own crosses,’ so I try not to carpenter any for myself.’44 Her concern was for the reign of God as she declared in her first letter from Brisbane: ‘I love that saying of our Blessed Lord’s: ‘‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”  His Kingdom is indeed to be sought in every part of Australia through which we passed, and if the Bishop, priests and nuns would only work cordially together, there is no part in the world where more can be done for God.’45 However, mercy was not to be dispensed at the expense of justice and when the occasion demanded it or the good of the mission or of her Sisters was at stake, she fought fearlessly for their rights. As Reverend Mother in Dublin, she had a long-running battle with the redoubtable Dean Meyler over the supply of a suitable chaplain for the Sisters, the difficulty with the current incumbent being such that the Sisters were refraining from the reception of the Eucharist. Her persistence prompted this retort from the Dean as he rather ungraciously conceded to Mother Vincent: ‘It is not easy to soften the hearts of Wexford nuns.’46

Part of the unease with Bishop Quinn in the early days of Brisbane was again over the freedom of conscience of her Sisters and the right to have access to suitable confessors. She was later to seek the hospitality of another Mercy Congregation for a Sister whose difficulties in this regard were causing her to refrain from receiving the sacraments. Nor did she confine her calling to task to matters spiritual. Her detailed response to the Bishop concerning the support of the Sisters and the schools under their care after the Diocesan Synod in 1880 indicates her tenacity had not been dimmed by the passing of years. Where issues affected her and her alone, she was content to remain silent, adopting the attitude that ‘All things are passing’; her concerns were those of God: ‘God’s work doing and to be done, are the only things worth thinking of in our life’s short journey.’47

In 1873 Mother Vincent returned to Brisbane bringing with her thirty Sisters of Mercy, either postulants, those who had completed their novitiate in Ireland with the express purpose of joining the Brisbane foundation or Sisters already professed. In writing to his brother Fr Andrew Quinn, the Bishop bade her safe passage: ‘She brings a precious cargo and she is worth a great part of it herself.’48 Despite his previous misgivings, on her arrival in Brisbane Bishop Quinn once more appointed Mother Vincent Mistress of Novices, while still remaining Mother Assistant. She was relieved of the task of initial formation of Sisters after some time but remained Mother Assistant until her death some twenty years later, one would think an onerous task for someone who ten years earlier had expressed the desire: ‘I hope my day for retirement will soon arrive, for I am just 20 years in Office, and I feel that God’s sweet Providence is sure to remove a soul He loves from Public Life after such a long time spent in it .... Thus I am just biding God’s Providence and hope to make a fervent use of this time when God sends it.’49 Fervent use she did make of this time, responding to need whether it be those of a Sister who needed advice or practical measures to remove her from a situation injurious to her health or well-being. She used this time also for conducting retreats for Sisters in distant houses and made herself available for visitation of the sick or any she found in need. Once travel became difficult for her, she spent her days in the ‘Lodge’ at All Hallows’ distributing food and other material goods to all who called for assistance. But above all, she remained the amalgam that bound the community together, who maintained connections, who was there to welcome and farewell and to reassure that ‘All would be well.’ Archbishop Robert Dunne captured this well. In writing to Mother Vincent an account of his meeting with a fellow cleric in Ireland he relates: ‘I told him that you are a little bottle of patent diamond cement. Whenever, I said, there is a break or a crack or a falling out of any sort, Mother Vincent is the diamond cement that brings things together again and united stronger than ever, the separated parts.’50

In August 1891, Mother Vincent celebrated fifty years as a professed Sister of Mercy, the first Sister of Mercy in Australia to reach that milestone.  Less than seven months later, she died at All Hallows’, Brisbane on 9 March 1892. She left behind 222 sisters and 26 schools catering for 7000 pupils. New foundations had been made in Rockhampton and Townsville to the north in addition to the several branch houses in Brisbane.  St Vincent’s Orphanage had been established in Nudgee and Holy Cross Home and Laundry in Wooloowin also on the northside of Brisbane. A Mercy Training College for teachers had been established in Nudgee, and the secondary school, All Hallows’, was opened many years before the state entered that field.  She duplicated in Brisbane the types of social work she had pioneered in Dublin, and provided a link between all forms of service in regular home visitation.51

An obituary written by a prominent layman in a Brisbane newspaper of the time of her death reads, “Her love for the sick, the poor, the outcast knew no limit, whilst her love for the children found expression in her last words to her beloved spiritual daughters, whom she trained to a life similar to her own, ‘Give my love to the children.’ Mother Vincent was full of ideas for the amelioration of the poor, and with a calmness befitting her character she would speak of the works she would like to see built up in this city before her death. Her beauty of character, her sweetness, her tenderness are known to thousands in Queensland."52


  1. Mary Xaverius O’Donoghue, Mother Vincent Whitty: woman and educator in a masculine society Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1972), 5..
  2. SM Vincent Whitty to MM Cecilia Marmion, 13 November 1841.
  3. SM Vincent Whitty to MM Cecilia Marmion, 13 November 1841.
  4. Mary Xaverius O’Donoghue, Mother Vincent Whitty: woman and educator in a masculine society Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1972), 130.
  5. O’Donoghue, Mother Vincent Whitty, 9.
  6. M Catherine McAuley to Sr M Frances Warde, Carlow, 6 January 1839.
  7. Mary Bertrand Degnan, Mercy Unto Thousands: Life of Mother Mary Catherine McAuley Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy Westminster, Maryland: Newman, 1957), 343.
  8. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, Baggot Street, 24 September 1860.
  9. MM Liguori Keenan to MM Vincent Whitty, 4 July 1889.
  10. S Joseph Angela of the Infant Jesus to SM Claver Mullany, undated.
  11. Dr Andrew Quinn to Archbishop Paul Cullen, 27 December 1861.
  12. Cf Renovationis Causam, 13, 36.
  13. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 9 December 1860.
  14. MM Liguori Keenan to MM Vincent Whitty, 4 July 1889.
  15. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 23 April 1861.
  16. MM Bridget Conlan to M Vincent Whitty, 9 March 1877, Letterbook Brisbane Mercy Archives, quoted in O’Donoghue, Mother Vincent Whitty, 130.
  17. SM Benignus Stritch to MM Vincent Whitty, 14 April 1891. Fr Byrne was parish priest of Dalby, Qld where SM Benignus was living at the time.
  18. MM Vincent Whitty to Archbishop Paul Cullen, 23 November 1853.
  19. MM Vincent Whitty to Archbishop Paul Cullen, 23 January 1854.
  20. MM Vincent Whitty to the Reverend Mother in Galway, 20 October 1854.
  21. MM Vincent Whitty to the Reverend Mother in Galway, 20 October 1854.
  22. Copy of letter from MM Vincent Whitty to Rev William Yore, Vicar General, Dublin, enclosure to the above.
  23. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 14 July 1860.
  24. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 14 July 1860.
  25. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 15 November 1860.
  26. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 14 July 1860.
  27. MM Vincent Whitty to M M of Mercy Norris, 15 November 1860.
  28. Rev Robert Whitty to SM Agnes Whitty, 1 December 1860.
  29. Rev Robert Whitty to S M Agnes Whitty, 1 December 1860.
  30. MM Vincent Whitty to Archbishop Cullen, 8 December 1860.
  31. MM of Mercy Norris to Archbishop Cullen, 27 March 1861.
  32. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 13 May 1861; 17 June 1863.
  33. MM Vincent Whitty to MM of Mercy Norris, 18 July 1863.
  34. MM Vincent to MM of Mercy Norris, 17 June 1863.
  35. Bishop Quinn to MM Vincent, 22 June 1863.
  36. Rev Robert Whitty to MM Vincent Whitty, 25 January 1866.
  37. Bishop Quinn to Archbishop Cullen, 2 March 1868. Letterbook Brisbane Archdiocesan Archives, quoted in O’Donoghue, 107.
  38. Bishop James Quinn to Bishop Matthew Quinn, July 1865. Letterbook Brisbane Archdiocesan Archives, quoted in O’Donoghue, 101.
  39. Vicar General Murray to Cardinal Cullen, 30 June 1970.
  40. SM Evangelist Forde to Cardinal Cullen, 6 April 1871.
  41. MM Vincent Whitty to M Catherine, Cappoquin, 12 November 1871.
  42. MM Vincent Whitty to MM Catherine, Cappoquin, 12 November 1871.
  43. MM Vincent to MM of Mercy Norris, 24 September 1860.
  44. MM Vincent to MM of Mercy Norris, 17 March 1863.
  45. MM Vincent to MM of Mercy Norris, 13 May 1861.
  46. Dean Walter Meyler to MM Vincent, 15 August 1851. MM Vincent was born in Wexford.
  47. MM Vincent to MM of Mercy Norris, 17 June 1863.
  48. Bishop James Quinn to Canon Andrew Quinn, 16 April 1873, quoted in O’Donoghue, Mother Vincent Whitty, 111.
  49. MM Vincent to MM of Mercy Norris, 17 June 1863.
  50. Archbishop Robert Dunne to MM Vincent 10 February 1891.
  51. Eileen M. O’Donoghue, “Whitty, Ellen (1819-1892),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. accessed 24/01/16.
  52. The Telegraph (Brisbane) 10 March 1892.