Mary Walsh, a young Irish woman whose parents died when she was an infant, immigrated to New York in 1869. There she found work as a laundress and, under the influence of the Dominican pastor of her parish, joined the Third Order of St. Dominic.
One day in 1876, while on her way to work, Mary heard a young girl crying. Following the child to her apartment, she found the girl’s mother lying sick on a mattress on the floor with a dead newborn baby at her side and three other hungry children with no one to care for them. Their father was in jail. Mary decided to drop all else while she cared for the family, nursing the mother and even finding a job for the father when he got out of jail. Though in the meantime she had lost her own job, Mary had found her vocation.
With the support of her parish, Mary gathered a group of coworkers who supported themselves doing laundry while visiting the sick poor in their homes. Although they barely scraped by themselves, these women, who called themselves Friends of the Sick Poor, devoted themselves in every way to those in need—regardless of race, religion, or lack thereof.
In 1910 they were recognized as a Dominican congregation, and Mary became mother superior—though not before she had submitted humbly to training as a novice. She died on November 6, 1922.
“If after my death I ever knew that one of God’s poor was not treated as he should by any member of our community, I would suffer indescribable pain.” —Mother Mary Walsh