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Freshford Cemetery

Freshford Cemetery, Kilkenny, Ireland, ©July 2011

(Revised June 30, 2013)

After publishing an almost 400 page book summarizing more than six years of extensively detailed research, I still have many questions. However, I am thrilled to have recently discovered the names of three Maher-related women and, through them, to reveal here some important connections! One is related to Waterbury, Connecticut’s beloved parish priest, Reverend Thomas Francis Hendricken (Ann), one, to the founding of the Sisters of Mercy in America (Frances), and another, to the founding of the Sisters of Mercy in New Zealand (Ellen/Cecilia).

Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken

Bishop Thomas Francis Hendricken

Although the first Irish Catholic settlements in New Haven County, Connecticut began to take hold in the mid 1820s, it was not until 1847 that Waterbury received its first resident priest, Reverend Michael O’Neil. In 1855 he was replaced by Father Hendricken, a native of Dunmore, Kilkenny, Ireland. Thomas Francis Hendricken was the son of John Hendricken and Anna Maria Maher. He was leader of the Waterbury Catholic community through complex decades of history, including during the Civil War, until his consecration as bishop of Rhode Island in 1872. He was credited with the completion of Naugatuck’s Saint Anne’s Church (the first Catholic church there), the purchasing of land for Naugatuck’s first Catholic cemetery, Saint Francis, and the building of the first Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury’s downtown. Had Ann Maher Hendricken’s son been related to the Mahers of New Haven county, I wonder? Had he requested placement in New Haven county, Connecticut due to such possible familial connections that had already become interwoven there by the 1850s, after Ireland’s Great Famine?

Mother Frances Warde

Mother Mary Frances Warde, daughter of Jane Maher, courtesy of Mercyworld.org

In Ireland, Carlow’s Father James Maher, nephew of Cardinal Cullen (head of the Irish College in Rome) had mentioned that the nuns in Carlow were needed in America, thus serving as the catalyst for the entrance of the Sisters of Mercy order into areas across the sea. America’s part of this story began with the birth of Frances (Fanny) Warde, in 1810, youngest child of Jane Maher, wife of John Warde, in Mountrath, Queen’s County/Laois, Ireland, eight miles from the town of Abbeyleix. Jane died shortly after Fanny’s birth, leaving Fanny’s siblings Daniel, William, John, Helen, and Sarah.

The Warde family residence, Bellbrook House, had been “situated in the most beautiful part of the country.” Due to his willingness to voice his controversial political opinions, however, John Warde’s home and leases were taken by Lord de Vesci, Viscount of Abbeyleix, and transferred in trust for himself to Sir Robert Staples. With their father subsequently needing to relocate to Dublin in order to find work, the motherless children went to live with their uncle William Maher in Killeany, also in Laois.

Fanny Warde, later Reverend Mother Mary Francis Xavier, was the first Sister of Mercy professed by Foundress of the Irish order, Catherine McAuley, and she became Superior and Novice Mistress of Saint Leo’s Convent of Mercy in Carlow. Mother Frances’ sister, Sarah (Mother Mary Josephine Warde), also became a nun. In 1838 Mother Frances’ cousins, Ellen Maher (professed as Sr. Mary Cecelia) and Ellen’s half-sister Eliza, also joined the order in Carlow.

In 1843, Sister Cecelia succeeded Mother Frances Warde as Superior in Carlow when Mother Frances and six other sisters were chosen to emigrate to America to establish the Sisters of Mercy order in Philadelphia. Included in this first group were: Sr. M. Josephine Cullen, Sr. M. Elizabeth Strange, Sr. M. Aloysia Strange, Sr. M. Philomena Reid, Sr. Veronica McDarby, and Sr. Margaret O’Brien, under the direction of newly-ordained Bishop Michael O’Connor. Mother Frances and the other nuns worked as teachers, and eighteen more convents were established before her death in Manchester, NH, in 1884. [Note: Sisters Strange and Reid may have been relatives of the Stephen and Catherine Maher family of New Haven, as I understand Mother Cecilia to have been.]

Mother Cecelia Maher, courtesy of Mercyworld

Mother Cecilia Maher, daughter of John and Alicia Maher, courtesy of Mercyworld.org

In 1849 Mother Cecilia, along with six other members of the community in Carlow, one from Dublin, and one from Sydney, Australia, left Ireland to work in a New Zealand mission. Mother Cecelia established the Sisters of Mercy in Auckland, built convents and schools throughout the area, was the Superior General of her community and remained deeply involved in New Zealand as a teacher and social worker, caring for the sick and the orphaned until her death in 1878. Her grave is behind Saint Mary’s Convent, which she built in Poonsonby.

According to her Mercy International Association biography, Mother Cecilia (Ellen) had been the daughter of John and Alicia (or Adelaide) Maher, born September, 1799 in Freshford, Kilkenny. Her mother, like Mother Frances’, also died young, and her wealthy father was said to have remarried a woman named Ellen. Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s data pertaining to the Mahers of Kilkenny aligned with this information in relation to one William Meagher, whose son, John, lived in Freshford (Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, 1890). O’Meagher, however, noted the name of John’s second wife to have been Jane Harold. Might one or the other, Jane or Ellen, have been a middle name that the woman was known by? Might O’Meagher or the biographer have made a mistake in this first name? Otherwise, the combined children’s information brings the story of Mother Cecilia into further focus. John’s daughter was said to have helped in the rearing of her five step-siblings to whom she was very close, and due to that choice, deferred her entry into the religious order until she was 39 years old.

According to O’Meagher, John Maher’s family was: John Maher (1769-1836), of Freshford, brother of William Maher of Killeany, married Alicia Murray, of Kilkenny, in 1792. Their children: William J. (1800-1875, married Anne Maher, no children); Emanuel Murray (born 1802, died unmarried); Mary, Ellen (a nun), Adelaide, and Michael (who died in America). John Maher married a second time to Jane Harold (Limerick). Their children were Kate, Margaret (a nun), Elizabeth (a nun), Jane (a nun), and Fanny (a nun). [See my posting of August 8, 2011, The Mahers of Kilkenny.]

Four of Mother Cecilia’s step-sisters also became Sisters of Mercy. Jane professed as Sr. Mary Pauline, and both she and Fanny emigrated to America. Eliza, as mentioned above, entered the Carlow convent under the direction of Mother Frances Warde.

[Notable, in my opinion, was the existence of a school in Hartford, Connecticut, run by the Sisters of Mercy, where one Jane Maher was principal in 1860. Might she have been one of the above-mentioned sisters who went to America? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “In 1852 Mother Warde opened houses in Hartford and New Haven to which free schools were attached.” In the 1860 U.S. Census were Jane Maher, 35, and nine other Sisters of Mercy, teachers to 33 young girls in Hartford.]

O’Meaghers’ research noted John Maher as the brother of William, of Killeany. If Ann Maher Hendricken was also from this family it would mean that Bishop Hendricken, of Waterbury and Rhode Island, was related to both Mother Cecilia Maher and Mother Frances Warde and their families!

I believe ever more strongly that Adelaide Maher, wife of John Quigley, buried in the main section of Saint Francis Cemetery among the primary early Irish Catholic residents of Naugatuck, was a daughter from John Maher’s first marriage. She, among others, are discussed more fully in my book, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics of New Haven County, Connecticut. If I am correct, she would have been Mother Cecilia’s sister! The existence in this small borough of someone related to her would have likely driven her choice to emigrate with her children to this fairly remote place in 1864, apparently after the death of her husband. That connection would likely have been my great great grandfather, Patrick Maher, born in 1811, from Queen’s County, head of the only Maher family in town at that time. He and my great great grandmother, Anne Butler, were said to have been the first Irish Catholics to settle there in 1842.

Since so much family history research has to do with studying surnames that are predominantly male-based, I find it especially satisfying to have found connections among women, who so often become “lost in the crowd” due to the changing of their original surnames through secular or spiritual marriages.

This post is dedicated to the memory of a contemporary Anne Butler, for whose kindness and project-related friendship I am forever grateful. I will never forget our serendipitous meeting one miraculous day at Saint Francis Cemetery during our separate routines of tending the graves. May her soul rest in peace.


Carlow County – Ireland Genealogical Projects, Prof. Donal McCartney, Rev. James Maher P.P., 1793-1874; http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlcar2/Fr_James_Maher.htm

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Maher, Mary Cecelia, 1799-1878; http://www.mercyworld.org/heritage/tmplt-foundressstory.cfm?loadref=180

IrishHeritageTowns.com, Abbeleix, Rev. Mother Mary Frances Ward; http://abbeyleix.irishheritagetowns.com/rev-mother-mary-frances-ward/

Memoirs of the Sisters of Mercy, Pittsburgh, PA; http://archive.org/stream/memoirsofpittsbu00john#page/4/mode/2up

Mercy International Association, Mother Cecelia Maher; http://www.mercyworld.org/heritage/tmplt-foundressstory.cfm?loadref=180

Mercy International Association, Frances Warde, Joan Freney, RSM; http://www.mercyworld.org/heritage/tmplt-foundressstory.cfm?loadref=176

Mercy International Association, Heritage; http://www.mercyworld.org/heritage/landing.cfm?loadref=201

Mercy Parklands Hospital, Our Mercy Story; http://www.mercyparklands.co.nz/?page_id=10

The National Archives, U.S. Census, 1860, 1st District, Hartford, Connecticut, Roll M653_78, page 958, Image 435, Family History Library Film, 803078

New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, Mary Frances Xavier Warde; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15553a.htm

Quigley Genealogy Page (Maher relatives of Cardinal Cullen); http://homepage.eircom.net/~johnbquigley/Maher040502.htm

Sisters of Mercy, New Zealand, Auckland 1850, A Voyage Made ‘Only For God;’ http://www.sistersofmercy.org.nz/who-we-are/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=6

Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, Joseph Casimir O’Meagher; http://archive.org/stream/somehistoricaln00meagoog/somehistoricaln00meagoog_djvu.txt

From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut may be obtained at: Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT; Naugatuck Historical Society, Naugatuck, CT; and Quinnipiac University Bookstore, Mount Carmel Branch, Hamden, CT. In Baltimore it may be purchased from Loyola University Bookstore and The Ivy Bookshop. Online it may be purchased from Amazon.comBarnes and Noble, Amazon UK, and from me via Paypal or by check (P.O. Box 40211, Baltimore, MD, 21212).

©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ní Mheachair

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