Successive generations of young Athy people have benefited from the educational work of the Sisters of Mercy since Mother Vincent Whitty and her two companions travelled from the Baggot St. convent in Dublin to take charge of the new Mercy convent in Athy in October 1852. Mother Vincent was later to bring the educational mission of the Sisters of Mercy to Australia, where she was joined by several nuns and postulants from the Athy Convent including Sr. Mary Potter who had entered the Athy Convent in June 1866. This was the same Sr. Mary who 13 years later was appointed Superior of the Australian congregation, a position she held until her death in 1927. Both Mother Vincent Whitty and Sr. Mary Potter, with Bishop James Quinn of Brisbane [a brother of the Athy Parish Priest Fr. Andrew Quinn], were the founders of the Catholic education system in the Brisbane diocese of Australia.
Despite the fact that the local Athy people had been collecting funds for a convent building since the spring of 1843, the Sisters of Mercy in Baggot St. had to advance £300 to the local fund to allow the new convent to be completed. When the convent building was completed in October 1852 there was no school building as such and the nuns and the children used the local Parish Church as a school throughout the winter months. That changed the following year when Sr. Teresa Maher, formerly of Kilrush who had entered the Dublin noviciate, was sent to replace Mother Whitty in Athy. The Carlow Sisters of Mercy sent two sisters of Teresa Maher to the Athy convent, while their father Patrick Maher gave £10,000 to build school rooms for the young Athy pupils.
The years immediately following the Great Famine were marked by social and educational deprivation and it was in this environment that the Sisters of Mercy worked to provide a basic education for every child. The welfare of the children and their families were also catered for by the Sisters of Mercy who arrived in Athy at a time when the town was home to poverty, deprivation and disease. Much has changed in the intervening years and the poverty and slum dwellings of yesteryear are no longer even a memory.
Apart from attending to the educational needs of the local children, the Sisters of Mercy also provided nursing services in the workhouse, now St. Vincent’s Hospital. House visitations to the sick and elderly and especially to the poorer families of the area was other important element of the work of the Sisters of Mercy who were known as ‘walking sisters’. We can never hope to know the extent and range of assistance provided quietly and without fuss by the Sisters of Mercy over many decades for the most needy members of our local community.
The following photograph was taken at the Sisters of Mercy Convent Athy in May 1961.
Back [left to right]: Sr. Aidan, Sr. Enda, Sr. Teresa, Sr. Alphonsus, Sr. Immaculata, Sr. Philomena, Sr. Bernard and Sr. Rosarii.
Front [left to right]: Sr. Assumpta, Sr. Michael, Sr. Margaret, Sr. Carmel and Sr. Benignus.