The Irish Mail on Sunday
How the Bon Secours sisters came from post-revolution Paris to Ireland
THE Sisters of Bon Secours are known the world over for their compassion and care but they had remarkably humble beginnings.
Following the French Revolution 12 women came together and vowed to do what they could to alleviate the terrible suffering of the people of Paris.
It was an extremely turbulent period and the city’s hospitals were overcrowded and filthy so the women ventured into homes within their community to nurse the sick and the dying.
The Sisters of Bon Secours, led by Josephine Potel, was officially formed in January 1824 in the Church of Saint-Sulpice.
The nuns were driven by a desire to do good. They often had to share uniforms or sleep on mattresses on the floor.
This round-the-clock ‘hands on’ approach was revolutionary at a time when religious women were normally expected to remain in seclusion behind their convent walls after dark.
They quickly became known for offering good quality care to anyone who needed it, regardless of wealth, social class or religion.
As tales of the care and compassion offered by the nuns spread across France, their ranks were bolstered by more eager volunteers.
The order eventually expanded to other countries and opened its first foreign foundation in Ireland in 1861, when the country was still reeling from the Famine.
Four nuns set themselves up in a convent on Granville Street, Dublin, and later moved to Lower Mount Street and took charge of a Penny Dinner hall.
Following their successful expansion into Ireland, they ventured to the United States in 1881, England in 1870 and later to Scotland in 1948.
And in 1951 the first Bon Secours Hospital in Glasnevin, north Dublin, opened.
The sisters were also invited to work in Cork, Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine in the US, Belfast, Tralee and Galway.