Margaret Anna Cusack

Founder, Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace (1829–1899)
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Margaret Anna Cusack, a Poor Clare in Ireland, became widely known as “the Nun of Kenmare” for her prophetic writings on issues of her day, for urging women to claim their rights and dignity, criticizing the abuses of absentee landlords, and challenging laws that punished the poor. Her outspokenness won her many friends but also enemies—among them her own bishop, who instructed her convent to “put her out on the streets of Dublin.” With permission of Pope Leo XIII, however, she founded a new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, to serve the needs of young women.  

In 1885 she traveled to America and established a center for Irish immigrant women in Newark. But troubles with Church authorities continued to dog her. She was accused of having defamed the archbishop of New York, though the particulars of her offense were never revealed. “In many cases,” she said, “Roman Catholic priests and superiors put obedience to themselves in place of obedience to God.” Believing that baseless charges were impeding the work of her community, she asked the pope’s permission to withdraw from the congregation she had founded. She retired to England, where she died on June 5, 1899. Her congregation continues to honor the memory of their founder.  

“My desire is for peace and justice. Not indeed peace at any price. . . . Nor indeed the justice, which, like the statue in front of Dublin Castle, by happy accident, turns its back toward the people and its face toward the great.”  

—Margaret Anna Cusack 

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Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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