Teresa Kearney was the founder of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa. Born in County Wicklow, Ireland, she entered the Franciscan convent at Saint Mary’s Abbey, London, in 1892, taking the name “Sister Kevin.” Five years later, she volunteered to go to Uganda at the request of Bishop Henry Hanlon of the Mill Hill Missionaries. She was soon struck by the inadequacy of the church’s response to sickness and disease there. She was especially concerned with the problem of leprosy and the inadequacy of maternity and child care services. Encouraged by her bishop, she set up several dispensaries, clinics and a hospital. During World War I she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by the king of England for her treatment of soldiers during the East Africa campaign. In 1923 in Nsambya, Sister Kevin founded the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Saint Francis, a community of African nuns for teaching and nursing; she was appointed superior, with the title “Mother.” In 1928 she founded an exclusively missionary novitiate in England to serve her growing number of convents in Uganda. Both Mother Kevin and her bishop had long since concluded that the major obstacle to a meaningful Catholic medical apostolate was the church’s refusal to allow priests and nuns to practice maternity nursing, medicine, and surgery. She was one of a group of bishops and others who made representations in Rome in the late 1920s and early 1930s to have the prohibition modified or withdrawn. (Repeal eventually came in 1936.) In 1935 she opened an Irish novitiate at Mount Oliver, near Dundalk. This was to become the headquarters of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, which was established as a separate missionary order in 1952. Today sisters of the order work in hospitals, clinics, schools, and social centers in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa.
Edmund M. Hogan, SMA
Edmund H. Hogan, The Irish Missionary Movement (1990); Marian Keaney, They Brought the Good News: Modern Irish Missionaries (1980).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.