Eileen O’Connor was the co-founder of the religious order, Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, which was charged to assist ‘the poor and the poor only’. Since its inception, the order has performed a unique ministry of healthcare, advocacy and friendship to the poor and disadvantaged in Sydney, Brisbane, Newcastle and Wollongong. What is all the more remarkable is that Eileen was severely disabled by a fall that broke her spine when aged three.

With financial assistance from several benefactors, the society began its ministry from Our Lady’s Home in Coogee on 15 April 1913. Over the following years, a number of young women arrived at Coogee to undertake their mission amongst Sydney’s poor. They quickly became affectionately known as the ‘Brown Nurses’ because of their distinctive brown cloaks and bonnets. Despite her growing disabilities and constant pain, Eileen continued to guide the work of the fledging society from her bedroom at Our Lady’s Home.

On 10 January 1921 at just aged 28 years, Eileen O’Connor died at Our Lady’s home.

In 1974, congregation leader Sister May McGahey wrote to His Eminence Cardinal James Freeman asking for approval to instigate proceedings for beatification. In 1990, His Eminence Cardinal Edward Clancy gave permission for the preliminaries to proceed to a diocesan process.

In 2018, the Vatican confirmed that Eileen O’Connor has earned the title of Servant of God – the first of four steps towards sainthood.

The Society of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor was recognised as a religious order in 1953. At one stage, its community consisted of almost 40 religious sisters and novices, all trained or training as registered nurses, with ministries established throughout Sydney, Brisbane, Newcastle and Wollongong. Today, the mission of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor remains as important as ever.

Source: Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese, January 2013.