Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Brigid McGuigan (1842–1923)

by Catherine O'Carrigan

This article was published:

Brigid McGuigan (1842-1923), Sister of Charity, was born on 16 January 1842 at Braidwood, New South Wales, second of ten daughters of John McGuigan, native-born grazier, and his wife Ellen, née Foran. She was educated as a boarder by the Benedictine nuns at Subiaco Convent, Rydalmere, in 1856-59. On 22 July 1861 she entered the Sisters of Charity at St Vincent's Convent, Darlinghurst, and was trained as a teacher at its certified Victoria Street Roman Catholic School (later St Vincent's College). She took the religious name Mary Francis and was professed on 21 April 1864. Her teaching proficiency was noted and in 1869 she became headmistress of the Victoria Street school, with 173 girls and 68 boys. In 1872 she applied to the Council of Education for promotion which was granted in 1874 when her salary was increased to £108.

In 1882 Mother McGuigan was elected superior general and became responsible for all the institutions run by the Sisters of Charity, including St Vincent's Hospital and seven schools. Her election coincided with the abolition of state aid but, several trained teachers such as the Brutons and Mother M. Berchmans Daly having entered the congregation, she was able to staff four new schools in 1883 and seven more in New South Wales and two in Victoria by 1903. She oversaw the building of the Sisters' residence in 1882 and new wings to St Vincent's Hospital in 1888 and 1892, St Joseph's Hospital for consumptives at Parramatta (1886, transferred to Auburn in 1892), St Anne's Orphanage at Liverpool (1888), the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying at Darlinghurst (1890), St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, in 1893 and private hospitals in Sydney (1909) and Melbourne (1913).

Mother Francis visited Ireland in 1895 and studied educational centres; the doctors of St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, paid tribute to the high standards of the hospital in Sydney. On her return she oversaw the foundation of the teachers' college and music centre at St Vincent's Convent.

A gracious countenance enhanced the stately deportment of the tall Mother McGuigan. Tact allied with common sense and business ability made her perceptive and a methodical correspondent. Deeply spiritual with a grasp of the principles of justice, she aimed at preserving the integrity of her congregation with its central system of authority; its work was more complex than that of diocesan communities engaged in only one field. When she celebrated her golden jubilee on 21 April 1914, she was honoured by three bishops and fifty-two priests, six from Victoria: the Sisters gave a Gothic marble altar and pipe-organ to the Mother House chapel. There had been 44 Sisters in 1882; there were 403 when she retired in 1920. She died in St Vincent's Hospital on 27 October 1923 and was buried in the Lady Chapel, St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point.

Select Bibliography

  • Dublin Times, 28 June 1895
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 2, 16 Apr 1914
  • Catholic Press, 11 June 1914
  • Records of the Denominational School Board, and Council of Education (State Records New South Wales)
  • Sisters of Charity Archives (St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point, Sydney)
  • Sisters of Charity records (boxes 1 and 2, Sydney Diocesan Archives, St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Catherine O'Carrigan, 'McGuigan, Brigid (1842–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mary Francis, Mother

16 January, 1842
Braidwood, New South Wales, Australia


27 October, 1923 (aged 81)
Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.