The original seven members of the Society of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, circa 1921.
Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor began its ministry of service in 1913. The following seven women helped lay the foundations of its work in Sydney, Brisbane, Newcastle and Wollongong.
Sister Theresa (Cissie) McLaughlin
Theresa (Cissie) McLaughlin was born at Sodwalls, near Lithgow, NSW, in 1892 and educated at Rosebank College, Five Dock. She joined Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor on 26 May 1913 and was chosen by Eileen to continue ‘the work’ after her death in 1921. Cissie proved herself to be scrupulously loyal to the ideals of the society’s co-founders and gently guided it towards becoming a religious order. She became its first Superior in 1953 and then Mother General, a position she retained until her death on 28 March 1965. Cissie is remembered as a kind, generous, prudent and prayerful person with a keen sense of humour. She was much loved by everyone who met her.
Sister Mary Drohan
Mary Drohan was born at Ballarat, Victoria, in 1878 and educated at the local convent. Mary joined Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor on 31 May 1913, having been introduced to Eileen O’Connor by Father Edward McGrath, who knew her brother, a fellow priest with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Mary was capable in every way and never wasted a minute. She was known for her sense of humour, cooking and the ability to tempt Eileen to eat more, even during periods of acute pain. Each evening, those Nurses not assigned to night duty would gather in Eileen’s room for recreation and prayer. Mary would have everyone laughing with her readings from Steele Rudd’s “On Our Selection”. She died on 24 December 1934. Her brother celebrated her Requiem Mass at St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Coogee.
Sister Ellen (Nell) Fitzgerald
Ellen (Nell) Fitzgerald was born at Harden, NSW, in 1886 and educated at Yerong Creek. A teacher before she joined Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor on 8 August 1913, Nell proved to be a wonderful nurse who gave all to her patients. Kind, patient and blessed with a humble spirit, she was often assigned to pray with the dying ‘on the district’. Nell died on 9 June 1975, having devoted more than 60 years of her life to the service of the sick poor.
Sister Catherine (Katie) Lynch
Catherine (Katie) Lynch was born into a large pioneering family at The Welcome, near Parkes, NSW, in 1885. In Easter 1914, she attended a mission in Parkes conducted by Father Edward McGrath and was inspired by his comments about a newly-founded community of nurses who cared for the sick poor in their own homes. Soon afterwards, she travelled to Sydney to meet Eileen O’Connor and joined the small community on 8 April 1914. Katie was a big-hearted woman who loved people and was genuinely interested in their lives. She loved to set out each day laden with comforts for God’s poor. The more difficult the cases, the more they appealed to her heart. She died on 12 June 1942.
Sister Catherine (Kit) McGrath
Catherine (Kit) McGrath was born into a farming family at Sandy Creek near Wagga Wagga in 1885. Soon afterwards, her family moved to Parkes, where Kit attended the local convent school. Kit attended the same mission conducted by Father McGrath in Parkes as Katie Lynch and later travelled to Sydney to meet Eileen O’Connor. She joined the society on 28 May 1914 and as a farm girl, was immediately assigned responsibility for milking the community’s cow each morning. Kit was a gentle and kind person who was known for her good humour and strength of character. She was always ready to help, without fuss. She died on 28 August, 1942. Her brother, a Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest, celebrated her Requiem Mass.
Sister Agnes (May) McGahey
Agnes (May) McGahey was born at Ryde, NSW, in 1888 and was educated by the Sisters of Mercy. As a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace church in Gladesville, NSW, she met Father Edward Gell, whose family were generous benefactors of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in its early years. She joined the society on 24 January 1915 and was elected as its second Mother General in 1965, a position she held until 1974. She died on 18 January 1979, the last of the original seven nurses. May had a strong, commanding and dignified personality and was completely dedicated to the sick poor. Uncomplaining and always optimistic, she maintained that there was no problem that could not be solved by undeviating fidelity to Eileen O’Connor’s way.
Sister Julia Cooney
Julia Cooney was born at Davisville, near Wellington, NSW, in 1887 and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph, Perthville, NSW. In 1915, she was living in Ryde assisting her brother and his wife with their young family. Like May McGahey, Julia was introduced to Eileen O’Connor by her parish priest, Father Edward Gell. Julia joined Our Lady’s Nurses on 15 December 1915 and later became the society’s first Novice Mistress. She encouraged new members to find the ‘hidden work’ in their duties and to see the value in everyone and their situation. Julia had a warm, unselfish personality and showed great love and interest in her fellow nurses, patients and relatives. She loved concerts and played the piano and organ well, even after her eyesight failed. Julia died on 21 December 1978, having served the sick poor for more than 60 years.