Eileen O’Connor with the first member of the society, Theresa (Cissie) McLaughlin, circa 1916.
1892 – 1921
Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor co-founder, Eileen O’Connor, was permanently crippled by a fall that broke her spine when aged three. Despite many operations, she was permanently crippled and suffered acute pain throughout her short life.
With limited education and no formal theological formation, Eileen embodied a distinctive spirituality marked by a devotion to Our Lady and her own willingness to bear a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Her beautiful spirit inspired people to seek her guidance and prayers. She listened to them, understood their problems and gave wise advice. The plight of the sick poor was especially close to Eileen, whose family had been plunged into precarious financial circumstances following the death of her father in 1911.
In 1915, Eileen O’Connor spent several months travelling throughout France, Ireland and Italy, including a memorable audience with Pope Benedict XV, before returning to Australia. Despite her growing disabilities and constant pain, Eileen continued to guide the work of the fledgling society from her bed.
She died on 10 January 1921, aged just 28, at Our Lady’s Home, Coogee, trusting ‘the work’ to her constant companion, Theresa (Cissie) McLaughlin. Many believe Eileen O’Connor – dubbed ‘Little Mother’ by her community – is a saint-in-waiting.