Sister Mary Frances Cusack (lastname also written Kusack) (May 6, 1832  –June 5, 1899) known as the Nun of Kenmare, was an Irish Roman Catholic convert, a nun, founder of convents, a controversialist, an Irish patriot and prolific author.
She was born Margaret Anne Kusack near Dublin, Ireland, to a well-to-do Protestant family and sent to Exeter, Devon, to be privately educated when her parents separated. She spent most of her early life in England, and began to write when very young.
Motivated, it is said, by the sudden death of a fiancé, she first joined a convent of Puseyite Anglican nuns. But being disappointed not to be sent to the Crimea she converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Catholic nun in the Order of St. Clare (also known as the Poor Clares), a community of Franciscan nuns, engaged in teaching poor girls.
In 1861, she was sent with a small group of nuns to Kenmare, in County Kerry, then one of the most destitute parts of Ireland, to establish a convent of Poor Clares.
She managed though still in the nunnery to keep up a whirlwind of publishing energy while surrounding herself with controversy of every kind. She fought for her own personal rights and for Irish patriots, but made no demands for women’s rights in general, was opposed to co-education and thought degrees were wasted on women. She disliked the leveling of classes in education, according to her recent biographer.
She wrote 35 books, including many popular pious and sentimental texts on private devotions (A Nun’s Advice to her Girls), poems, Irish history and biography, founding Kenmare Publications, through which 200,000 volumes of her works were issued in under ten years. She kept two fulltime secretaries occupied for correspondence, wrote letters on Irish causes in the Irish, American, and Canadian press.
In the famine year of 1871, she raised and distributed £15,000 in a Famine Relief Fund. She publicly railed against landlords of the region, particularly Lord Lansdowne who owned the lands around Kenmare, and his local agent. She was always an outspoken Irish patriot, publishing The Patriot’s History of Ireland, in 1869, though she later denied being associated with the Ladies' Land League. In 1872 she issued a life of Daniel O'Connell, The liberator: His Life and Times, Political, Social, and Religious.
She was unpopular with a section of the Catholics of England; but she seems to have enjoyed from the beginning the sympathy of most of the leading Catholics, lay and clerical, of Ireland. However as her actions provoked the hostility of clergy in November 1881 she effectively fled the nunnery. After leaving the convent, she began to establish shelters and vocational schools for female emigrants to the U.S.. and supported herself through her lectures and writings.
In 1884, in a personal interview with Pope Leo XIII in order to seek support, Cusack obtained permission to leave the Poor Clares and found a new order, the Sisters of Peace, intended for the establishment and care of homes for friendless girls, where domestic service would be taught and moral habits be inculcated. She opened the first house of the new order at Nottingham, England, and in 1885 a similar house in Jersey City, New Jersey, the first foundation of the Sisters of Peace in the United States.
In 1888 she reconverted to the Anglican communion after an altercation with her bishop and soon issued The Nun of Kenmare: An Autobiography (1889). Afterwards she wrote and lectured as tirelessly as ever, denouncing Catholicism: The Black Pope: History of the Jesuits, What Rome Teaches (1892); Revolution and War, the secret conspiracy of the Jesuits in Great Britain (published posthumously, 1910) and the like.
In 1891 Cusack returned to England. She died in 1899, aged about 67 in Leamington, Warwickshire, in the Methodist faith.
In 1872 she wrote Honehurst Rectory, ridiculing Dr. Pusey and the other founders of the Puseyite order.
In 1872 the entire edition of her Life of St. Patrick burned in a fire at the publisher's. She was accused of plagiarism.
Mary Kusack's melodramatic and pious novels include Ned Rusheen, or, Who Fired the First Shot? (1871); and Tim O’Halloran’s Choice (1877).
She issued Advice to Irish Girls in America (1872).
In 1878 appeared The Trias Thaumaturga; or, Three Wonder-Working Saints of Ireland telling the lives of saints Patrick, Columba and Brigit.
At the time of a sensational supposed apparition at Knock, she produced the pamphlet The Apparition at Knock; with the depositions of the witness[es] examined by the Ecclesiastical Commission appointed by His Grace the Archbishop of Tuam and the conversion of a young Protestant lady by a vision of the Blessed Virgin(1880). She issued Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children (1881), wrote verse, issued lives of St. Patrick, Columba and Brigid as Trias Taumaturga: The Wonder-working Saints of Ireland (1878).
She has published more than fifty works, chief among which are a Student's History of Ireland; Woman's Work in Modern Society; lives of Daniel O'Connell, St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Bridget; The Pilgrim's Way to Heaven; Jesus and Jerusalem; and The Book of the Blessed Ones. Two autobiographies are The Nun of Kenmare (1888) and The Story of My Life (1893).
The Black Pope: History of the Jesuits, What Rome Teaches (1892); Revolution and War, the secret conspiracy of the Jesuits in Great Britain (published posthumously, 1910)
The earnings of her most notable writings - Lives of Irish Saints and Illustrated History of Ireland (1868) - supported her convent.
This article incorporates text from the public domain Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography.