Margaret Aylward, 1810–1889
Lady of Charity, Sister of Faith
Margaret Aylward was a wealthy Waterford woman who devoted her considerable talents to improving the lot of poor families in Dublin during the second half of the 19th century. Following several failed attempts at religious life, she worked as a lay woman, directing the first Dublin branch of the Ladies of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, visiting and relieving the sick poor in their homes. Extensive field experience brought her into direct and very public conflict with English-backed evangelical missionaries; her relentless exposure of the proselytism rampant in the city slums led to considerable notoriety, and a highly controversial prison sentence of six months. She pioneered a sophisticated 'family rearing' system of care for destitute children, known as St Brigid's orphanage, which was to provide the model of outdoor care adopted by the Irish workhouses. Six months' imprisonment and poor health failed to dampen her zeal, and a network of schools for the poor was her next ambitious venture. Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, her story is one of great courage, and a passionate commitment to faith and justice in her time.
Jacinta Prunty is a lecturer in history at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and is a Holy Faith sister. She is author of the award-winning Dublin slums 1800–1925: a study in urban geography (FCP, 1998).