- The Iona Institute - http://www.ionainstitute.ie -

How the Legion of Mary offered a more humane response to unmarried mothers

Speaker: Finola Kennedy

Ireland’s Catholic past has been in the news again very recently. It never seems to be out of it and the picture that is painted of our Catholic past is not flattering, to put it mildly.

The latest furore has been over the Tuam Mother and Baby home where it has come to light once again that almost 800 babies died there in the years of its operation from 1925 to 1961 and are buried in an unmarked grave.

There is no doubt that Ireland’s treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies was very harsh, as it was to a greater or lesser extent in many other societies at the time. But did it have to be this way? Did we have to be so harsh, and did we have to separate unmarried mothers from their babies in the way that we did?

One man and one organisation who thought otherwise was Frank Duff and the organisation he founded, the Legion of Mary.

When Frank Duff set up his Regina Coeli hostel for homeless women in 1930, he found that many of the women arriving for help and for shelter were unmarried mothers. He sought to help them, not stigmatise them. He helped these women keep their babies and to raise them. He was very opposed to separating these unmarried mothers from their children except in rare circumstances.

Frank Duff’s Legion of Mary was the only organisation operating in those early decades after Independence that offered this kind of help to unmarried mothers. This shows that a more humane alternative to institutions like the Mother and Baby homes was possible, including from a Catholic point of view.

Our talk will look at this humane, more Christian alternative that Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary offered. It will look at how he was also critical of the industrial schools. It will examine how he and the Legion of Mary refused to be prisoners of the attitudes of their time and rose above them.

The talk will be delivered by Finola Kennedy, author of Frank Duff: A Life Story.

Finola has been a lecturer at University College Dublin and at the Institute of Public Administration, Ireland. She was a member of the Review Group on the Constitution and the Commission on the Status of Women.

She is the author of the pioneering study, Cottage to Crèche: Family Changes in Ireland. She has contributed frequently to newspapers such as the Irish Times, the Sunday Business Post and the Sunday Independent.

The chair on the evening will be Finola Bruton who is well known to Iona Institute supporters.

If you would like to attend, please email [email protected] [1] or phone 01 661 9204.