Founder Mother Mary Kevin/Our History
In the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, God raised up many wonderful people who were to bring the Good News to many countries and especially to Africa. It was a great missionary era. Many congregations of both women and men were started, each with a different charism, but all with the same goal of establishing the Kingdom of God.
Our Foundress, Mother Mary Kevin, OSF, previously known as Theresa Kearney, was an Irish woman born in Arklow, Ireland on April 30, 1875. Unfortunately, she was orphaned at the age of six. She was therefore raised by her grandmother. At the age of twenty, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary’s Abbey, Mill Hill in London. After her profession she was chosen as one of a team of six sisters, sought by a local bishop, destined for missionary work in Uganda.
They arrived in Uganda on January 6, 1903. At the time there was a high infant mortality rate and few education options for women and girls. Sr. Kevin heeded the call and became God’s instrument of peace to the region. Sr. Kevin was very impressive. Under her leadership, hospitals, nursing schools, leprosy clinics, convents and many other school/health care programs were opened. She challenged local, backward and retrogressive views limiting education, and rights of the girl child. Mother was a woman of great faith, humility and love. These virtues helped her endure devastating epidemics, wars, and financial hardship to advocate for women and heal the sick.
Twenty years later, Mother Kevin founded the Little Sisters of St. Francis on May 1, 1923. Her activities, pertinent with early establishment of the Little Sisters, were supported and encouraged by Mill Hill Fathers in Uganda. It was during the Episcopate of Bishop Campling, then Bishop of Kampala Diocese, that the Institute was founded. He personally showed interest in this new enterprise and became the spiritual guide of the young and enthusiastic community.
Mother Kevin is highly regarded for her work to the poor. She was like a rock star sister for women and those who had no place else to go due to disabilities or other infirmities. She established homes for the poor, cared for children with stigmatized by disabilities whose families abandoned them to the care of the sisters. She founded orphanages in both Uganda and Kenya. These homes are still there because generations of sisters, following the lead of Mother Kevin, continue to care joyfully for the needy in their community.
On October 17, 1957 in Boston, Mother Kevin was called to her final destiny and thereafter buried at Mt. Olive – Dundalk, Ireland. However, upon request from the Little Sisters, she was exhumed and flown to Nkokonjeru, Uganda, and was laid to rest at Motherhouse Cemetery on December 3,1957.
From 1958, the Little Sisters were guided by three Mother Moderators who succeeded Mother Kevin. The Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, under the guidance of the Superior General, played a great role in the spiritual and education of the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
In January 1959, the Little Sisters of St. Francis held their first General Chapter where they elected the first African Superior General. The Institute was then officially approved as an independent entity by Rt. Rev. Vincent Billington, Bishop of Kampala Diocese by all Decree dated February 10, 1959.