George, Margaret Farrell (1787-1868)
Founder of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati
Margaret Farrell George was a founding member of Elizabeth Seton’s Sisters of Charity in the United States. She conducted schools and orphanages in New York City; Frederick, Maryland; Richmond, Virginia; and Boston before becoming the founding mother of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
Born in Sligo, Ireland, December 27, 1787, she immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old. She lost her father and siblings in the 1794-95 yellow fever epidemic, and within a short time moved with her mother Bridget Farrell to Baltimore, Maryland.
When she was nearly 20 she met and married Lucas George, professor of classics at St.Mary’s College. Within six months of the young couple’s wedding, Lucas George was injured in an accident, and confined to bed for five months before his death November 2, 1808. Through the period of nursing her husband, Margaret was also pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter within a few weeks of her husband’s death, but the baby succumbed to whooping cough in early January 1809. It was during this period that she met Elizabeth Seton, newly arrived in Baltimore to open a school.
In June 1809 Elizabeth Seton moved to Emmitsburg, a small village west of Baltimore, where the American Sisters of Charity had their official beginnings July 31, 1809. For the next several years, Margaret remained in Baltimore, taught at a girls’ academy, and was involved in benevolent activities such as visiting the poor house. She retained close ties with Elizabeth Seton.
On February 2, 1812, she and her mother Bridget moved to St. Joseph’s in Emmitsburg, Margaret to join the Sisters of Charity and Bridget to board at the motherhouse. Within a short time Bridget Farrell also joined the community. Margaret was among the first group of sisters to make vows in the new community. Her skills were immediately recognized both in the community where she served as Treasurer from 1813 to 1819 and in St. Joseph’s Academy where she taught history, bookkeeping, French, and penmanship.
In 1837 Margaret was again elected Treasurer of the community. During her four-year stay at the Motherhouse she compiled a roster of the early community members and the Diary of St. Joseph’s. Each of these documents contributed significantly to recording the early history of the community.
Margaret was assigned to Cincinnati, Ohio, in February 1845. Here she directed St. Peter’s Orphan Asylum and School for girls, a mission the Sisters of Charity had opened in 1829. At the time of her arrival, there were six sisters and more than two hundred children at Peter’s.
By the end of the decade the superiors in Emmitsburg had decided to join the American Sisters of Charity with the French Daughters of Charity. Margaret and several of the other sisters on the Cincinnati mission, feeling that they wished to remain true to Elizabeth Seton’s vision of an American community responsive to the needs of the American church, accepted Bishop John Purcell’s invitation to form a diocesan community. On March 25, 1852, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati was established with six members.
The Sisters continued to operate St. Peter’s and within the first year took charge of St.. Joseph’s boys’orphanage and St. John’s, the first Catholic hospital in Cincinnati. Margaret George was elected the first Mother. The community grew rapidly, additional schools in Cincinnati were opened, and property was purchased for the first Motherhouse.
In 1859 Margaret was elected Assistant Mother and assigned to St. Joseph’s Orphanage as superior, president, treasurer and bookkeeper. Here she oversaw nineteen sisters and about 350 orphans, and on February 2, 1862, celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of Charity. Before the year was out, Margaret suffered a stroke and was forced to give up her active life. She returned to Mount St. Vincent Motherhouse, where she remained until her death November 12, 1868.
Portrait of Mother Margaret George by Augusta Zimmer, SC