A woman born in Summerhill went on to play a major role in the education field in southern Africa. Born Mary Ann Cosgrave she took the name Mary Patrick when she joined the Dominican nuns.
Mary Ann Cosgrove was born in Summerhill in 1863, the daughter of a policeman. Her mother died when she was ten years old of tuberculosis and her father died shortly afterwards. Mary Anne and her sisters were despatched to her father’s cousin in Wexford and Mary Anne was educated at the Loreto convent in Enniscorthy.
At the age 15 she began working in a drapery shop in Wexford. In 1880 when the Bishop of Grahamstown, South Africa, Very Rev. Dr. Richards, arrived in Wexford and made a call for priests and postulants. At the age of sixteen Mary Anne took the opportunity to join the Dominicans and soon afterwards sailed for Cape Town.
In 1881 she entered the Dominican Order, the Sisters’ mother house in King William’s Town; she had made her religious profession there in 1882. She taught at the convent school there and in East London and Potchefstroom.
Pope Leo XIII was anxious to start a mission in the African interior. In 1889 while at Potchefstroom Sister Patrick heard of the appeal for volunteer nurses to go north with the pioneers on their march. The Pioneer column was a force raised by Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa company in an effort to annex the territory of Mashonland, before the Germans or Portuguese. Mashonland later became part of Southern Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.
At the age of twenty six Sister Patrick was selected as mother superior of a group of five nuns chosen to accompany the march. The commander of the column was Colonel Edward Pennefather, a native of Wexford. On their way north to Mashonaland they received in-service training from the doctors in charge of the particular camps.
After stopping at Macloutsie and Fort Tuli where they nursed the men stricken by dysentery and malaria the Sisters reached Fort Salisbury (Harare) on 27 July 1891, ten months after the arrival of the pioneer column which had gone ahead, having covered more than 1200 km since their departure from South Africa.
In Salisbury Sister Patrick set up the first hospital, located in a collection of grass huts and tents, until these were replaced by a permanent purpose-built building in 1895. In October 1892 she opened the Salisbury convent, the first school for Europeans. Mother Patrick founded the Dominican Convent High School in Harare in 1892. Doris Lessing, Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 2007 is a former pupil of the Dominican Convent school.
In 1894 she founded a hospital and convent school, St George’s College for Boys, in Bulawayo. By the end of 1897 the total number of nuns had risen to about thirty. Mother Patrick was elected prioress of the independent community in Rhodesia, despite initially opposing the creation of the new community. In 1898 Mother Patrick and another nun travelled to Dublin to complete a nursing qualification. Six new postulants accompanied Mother Patrick to Salisbury in November 1998.
Mother Patrick died of tuberculosis in July 1900 aged thirty seven. A seven foot high Celtic cross was erected over her grave and an annual pilgrimage took place to her grave on St. Patrick’s Day for many years. Mother Patrick is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of White Rhodesians.”
In 1970 the Rhodesian government issued a stamp to commemorate the Irish Dominican nursing sister Mother Mary Patrick Cosgrave.