Skip to content ↓

View entry

Back to search results

Name: KEVIN, Mary (Mother) CBE

image of individualimage of individual

Nee: Mary Teresa Kearney

Birth Date: 28.4.1876 Arklow, Ireland

Death Date: 17.10.1957 Boston, USA

First Date: 1902

Last Date: 1957

Profession: Among the Catholics, Mother Kevin of the Franciscan Sisters inaugurated hospitals, maternity centres and leper settlements and became a by-word for energy and enterprise.

Area: Kampala

Book Reference: Boase, EA & Rhodesia, UJ, North

General Information:

East Africa & Rhodesia - 8/12/55 - Mother Kevin, who founded the Roman Catholic order of the African Sisters of St. Francis in Uganda, and who served in that country for more than 50 years, has received the insignia of the CBE at a ceremony in the British Embassy in Washington.
Mother Kevin, who was born in Ireland, arrived in Uganda in 1902 and left Nsambya Convent, Kampala, last year. She now lives in the United States.
East Africa & Rhodesia - 24/10/57 - The Rev Mother Kevin, who spent 50 years as a missionary in East Africa, has died in the Boston convent of the community of missionary sisters which she founded. Born in 1876, the daughter of Michael Kearney, of Arklow, County Wicklow, she entered the Order of St. Francis, and in 1902, with six other missionaries, sailed for East Africa, where she worked for the remainder of her life.
During the first world war she worked in the mission hospital at Nsambya among the wounded brought to Uganda from the German East Africa campaign. For her services she was awarded the MBE. She then founded the African Community of the Little Sisters of St. Francis, of which she became mother-general. While superior of the community in Africa she established numerous schools, training colleges, and hospitals, including two for lepers. She also established a missionary novitiate in Yorkshire and a postulancy at Dundalk, Ireland.
She received the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1929, and was promoted CBE in 1955.
Uganda Journal - Vol 22 - Obituary - Mother Mary Kevin CBE - Tereza Mary Kearney, in religion Mother Mary Kevin, was born in 1876 at Arklow, County Wicklow; and her Irish vivacity and charm never left her. She came to England and, after serving her novitiate at St. Mary's Abbey, Mill Hill, entered the Order of Saint Francis.
In 1902 the Mother Abbess was approached by Bishop Hanlon, Vicar Apostolic of the Upper Nile, with a request that she would send Sisters to help the Mill Hill Fathers in Uganda. After due consideration the Mother Abbess and her Council decided to send 6 sisters to Uganda. The head of this party was Mother Mary Paul, of Boston, USA (who died at Nsambya in 1921). One of the remaining 5 was Mother Mary Kevin.
The party reached Uganda on 15 January 1903, and first took up residence at Nsambya. In June 1906, Mother Kevin, with 2 other sisters were sent to open a station at Nagalama, about 30 miles north-east of Nsambya. In later years she established numerous schools training colleges, and hospitals in other parts of the Vicariate, including two hospitals for lepers.
During World War I she worked in the mission hospital at Nsambya amongst the wounded from the German East Africa Campaign and her services were recognized by the award of the MBE. From time to time certain of her pupils at Nsambya had asked that they might be trained as religious. After some hesitation she concented to approach Bishop Biermans, who supported the proposal. The first aspirants were duly received in 1923.
In 1926 the Bishop formally instituted the novitiate of the Little Sisters of Saint Francis and in the same year the foundation stone of their convent was laid at Nkokonjeru. In 1928 Mother Kevin went on a special mission to England and, through the generosity of the Duchess of Norfolk, was able to establish a novitiate for missionaries at Holme Hall in Yorkshire and later on a postulancy at Dundalk in Ireland. For these services she received the cross 'Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice' in 1929; and later, in 1955, she was promoted CBE.
After over 50 years service in Uganda she retired to Boston, USA, where she died in October 1957 in the convent of the Missionary Sisters which she had founded.
Such is the bald narrative of the achievements of Mother Mary Kevin, but behind it all is a wonderful story of hardships, trouble, toil and even at times tears which will perhaps never be told in full. It is true that she was not one of those 'who walked up from the coast', but the journey from Kisumu to Uganda had to be made in a very small steam-launch in command of an African captain-cum-stoker, who at one stage proceeded to go completely off his course. The Mill Hill Fathers had prepared a temporary sundried brick building covered with grass. We are told that "for breakfast the Sisters had bananas, and twice a week the Fathers sent them a very bony and scraggy leg of mutton. For 3 years their diet knew very little change, and all that time they never had a morsel of bread".
When Mother Kevin and her two companions went to Nagalama, they had to live in a mud hut for 6 months, whilst better buildings were being erected. Conditions were little better when she and the first party of Sisters arrived 20 years later at Nkokonjeru. Here again everything had to start from the very beginning and in addition to many other roles Mother Kevin had to be her own clerk of works. That she achieved so much under so many difficulties was due largely to the fact that she was Mother Kevin, tireless in her devotion to the tasks to which she had dedicated her life and at the same time practical and possessed of rare common sense.
Perhaps she is chiefly remembered for her unceasing labours to bring comfort and relief to thousands of sick and suffering. 'Mama Kevina' became a household word in Uganda amongst all classes and creeds - so much so that during the last world war soldiers from Uganda fighting in the dense Burmese jungle gave that name to the Dakotas which brought them their supplies and carried away their wounded. After her death her mortal remains were brought back to be buried in the land which she loved and amongst the people for whom she had given so many years of devoted service. It was altogether fitting and proper that it should be so. - J.M. Gray

Back to search results