History of The Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa 


Mother Kevin, formerly Teresa Kearney, was born on 28th April, 1875 in Knockenrahan, Arklow, Co Wicklow. She first left for Uganda on 2nd December 1902 and arrived on January 15th 1903 as a Franciscan Sister of St Mary's Abbey, Mill Hill, London. In 1952 she founded the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa.

Her father died in an accident three months before she was born. Her mother remarried and had three more children. They were a happy united family, but when Teresa was ten years old tragedy struck again – her mother died. 

Now her grandmother, Granny Grennell in Curranstown, County Wicklow, brought the young Teresa to her home. This beloved Granny opened her heart to Teresa giving her love, security, a deep faith and a share of her own wisdom.

At fourteen years of age, Teresa became an Assistant Teacher with the Sisters of Mercy, Rathdrum and this continued for some years. But just before she was seventeen her grandmother died suddenly – so many bereavements at such a young age. Perhaps all these happenings were the source, of Mother Kevin’s strength of character and practical wisdom.

A year later Teresa went to teach in a school in Essex, searching for what God was asking of her. On the advice of her Spiritual Director, she applied to the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary’s Abbey, Mill Hill London, as she felt called to their charism of serving the African American community.

Image On 21st April 1989 she made her Perpetual Vows, as Sister Mary Kevin of the Sacred Passion. Her motto was "For Thee, Lord", a sentiment that inspired her for the rest of her life.

In 1902 a Mill Hill Father, Bishop Henry Hanlon, approached Franciscan Sisters Mill Hill, requesting Sisters for Uganda. Having seen the crying needs of women and children there and the high infant mortality rate, the Bishop was convinced that it was necessary to have Sisters engaged in health care and education ministries. He was well aware that the impact of preaching the Gospel was greatly lessened if people were in need of healing, education and development skills.

Sister Kevin was one of the Sisters chosen for this new venture. And so – a new challenge for Young Sr. Kevin! With five Sister companions she left for Uganda on December 2nd 1902.

When Sister Paul, the first leader of the group returned to the United States in 1910, Sister Kevin became the new Leader. Her zeal and energy over the next fifty years brought hope to so many people in Uganda.

New convents were opened; primary schools, clinics and women’s development groups were dotted all over Uganda, Busoga, and Teso districts.


The clinic that began under a mango tree at Nsambya, Kampala, Uganda in 1903 became a hospital, then a training School for Uganda Registered Nurses. Secondary Schools, Teacher Training College and Homecraft Centres followed.

But among Mother Kevin’s special projects were the two centres, one at Buluba, one at Nyenga, to care for Leprosy patients - a truly Franciscan Ministry.

In 1923, Mother Kevin founded the Little Sisters of St Francis. They now number over 550 Sisters and are working in three countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

The need for more Sisters for Africa was a priority for Mother Kevin. She got permission from Mill Hill Abbey to start a "Uganda Novitiate", in Holme Hall, Yorkshire. This was opened on 2nd February 1928.

Many young women from England, Scotland and Ireland flocked to Holme Hall, to join the new missionary endeavor in East Africa. However, Mill Hill Abbey also needed Sisters for their Schools in England and the American mission.

Image Mother Kevin and the Sisters soon realised that a separate Congregation was the only way to guarantee Sisters for Africa. As many young women were coming from Ireland, in 1935, Mount Oliver Convent, Dundalk was opened as a receiving house for postulants from Ireland. The break with Mill Hill was now inevitable. On the 9th June 1952, the new Congregation named Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa came into being. Mother Kevin was the first Superior General; Mount Oliver became the Motherhouse.

At seventy-seven years of age, Mother Kevin had the scope she had longed for over the decades. A great burst of missionary endeavor began - new missions were opened in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, USA Scotland and South Africa, including outreaches to the blind and physically handicapped. Our American Novitiate was opened in 1954.

But Mother Kevin knew that the needs and challenges of the time were great and younger Sisters who shared her vision and zeal could cope better. She relinquished her post as Superior General in 1954 and Mother Alcantara White was elected to succeed her at the General Chapter held in January 1955. Mother Kevin was appointed Superior of our Boston Convent and characteristically she threw herself into the work of soliciting funds for the many needy projects in Africa. Tirelessly she travelled, talked, prayed and inspired always hoping to return one day to her beloved Uganda. But the end came unexpectedly. Quietly at the end of a busy day, Mother Kevin died peacefully in her sleep on the 17th October 1957. Her Sisters and friends in three continents dearly missed her. A great missionary of our time has finished her tasks on earth, but her vision lives on.

Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, working in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa journey on in the spirit of Mother Kevin. The harvest is great - "Send more Sisters" is still the cry...

The vision and the spirit is the same as when Mother Kevin and the pioneer band arrived in Uganda in January 1903 - to help empower the women and girls of Africa by offering health care, education and development skills. But the scenario is very different, and the challenges are too...... In 100 years of missionary work we have seen the rise of a vibrant Catholic Church in all these countries, and the emergence of a multitude of highly educated and motivated women, including African Sisters, ready to help build a just and open Christian society. But, because of AIDS, famine, wars, corruption in high places and anti Christian influences of all kinds the task is daunting. The hope for Africa’s way forward is from the ordinary people, the grass roots, working together for justice, self-help, community-building, home-based health care, community schools, skills training...