The 18 orders: what they do now

Orders at the centre of the abuse controversy are involved in running schools and hospitals

Orders at the centre of the abuse controversy are involved in running schools and hospitals

SOME OF the 18 religious orders that signed the indemnity deal with the State are still involved in education in a significant way, with the Irish Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy accounting for a large number of schools. However, the numbers of religious in the 18 orders have fallen greatly in recent years and the majority are now reaching or have passed retirement age.

Sisters of Mercy

The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy ran 26 industrial schools during the period investigated by the commission, making them the largest providers of care by nuns at that time. The order was founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831.


The Sisters of Mercy are still one of the key providers of education with involvement in more than 60 pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools around the State. The order has associations with four community schools and has had a long involvement with the third-level Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

The Sisters are also involved in working with educational bodies such as the National Centre for the Liturgy in Maynooth, An Tobar Resource Centre in Marino, Dublin, and the Education in the Prison Service scheme run by the VEC.

The order is also involved with hospitals such as the Mater, Temple Street Children’s Hospital and the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Through Sr Consilio Fitzgerald, it founded addiction centres all over Ireland, the best known of which is the Cuan Mhuire centre in Athy, Co Kildare.

The Sisters of Mercy is an international congregation, with 2,750 members in Ireland, South America, Africa, and the US. Some 2,283 of these are working in Ireland, while 90 are in the US and 32 in South Africa.

Christian Brothers

Some eight chapters in the Ryan report were devoted to the Christian Brothers, the largest provider of residential care for boys in the State at that time.

The order had its beginnings in Waterford city in 1802, when Edmund Ignatius Rice opened a school for poor children. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse described the growth of the order as “remarkable”. In 1831, there were only 45 Christian Brothers but by 1960, that had increased to 4,000.

Today, there are about 250 Christian Brothers in Ireland. Like most religious orders, the majority of the Brothers are aged over 60.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust, set up last year, is responsible for 96 Christian Brothers schools in the State. Some 59 are second-level and 37 are primary schools. About 35,000 students attend these schools and are taught by more than 2,700 teachers.

The Christian Brothers trustees formally handed on its network of nine schools in Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Edmund Rice Schools Trust in January. The Northern Ireland trust has operational responsibility for 5,500 students and more than 320 teachers.

Irish Christian Brothers can also be found all over the world, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, Africa and the US.

Presentation Brothers

The Presentation Brothers, which ran St Joseph’s Industrial School in Greenmount, Cork, is currently involved in numerous primary and post-primary schools around the State.

There are six in Cork city as well as schools in Cobh, Co Cork, Birr, Co Offaly, Bray, Co Wicklow, and Miltown and Killarney, Co Kerry. The Brothers are involved in a range of other activities, including the Immigrant Support Unit at Mount Sion, Waterford, and the Glór na hAbhann ecology and spirituality centre in Waterford.

The order was set up by Edmund Rice in Waterford in 1808 and was first known as the Society of the Preservation.


The Institute of Charity, known as the Rosminians, was praised by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse for its acceptance of responsibility for what happened in its schools.

The order was founded in Italy in 1828 and came to Ireland after it was invited to run a new reformatory school in Upton, Co Cork in 1860. It opened a number of other houses in the following years, many of which have since closed. The order has about 30 members in Ireland, with 300 worldwide.

The Upton reformatory school closed in 1966 and later reopened as a centre for adults with mental disabilities. The order has handed the school to the State, but it continues to have a pastoral role there.

It also ran St Joseph’s Industrial School in Ferryhouse, Clonmel, Co Tipperary. The order also transferred ownership of the property to the State, but retains a pastoral presence there.

The order is probably best known today for the Rosminian House of Prayer in Glencomeragh. It has scaled back on its involvement in education for the visually impaired in Drumcondra, Dublin, but it is represented on the board of St Joseph’s School for the Visually Impaired.

Its members run parishes in Clonmel, Co Tipperary and Faughart, Co Louth and also serve as missionaries, most notably in east Africa.

Daughters of Charity

The Irish province of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul has almost 30 houses around the State and in Kenya.

It came to Ireland from France, in 1855 and operated industrial schools, orphanages, centres for people with an intellectual disability, a hospital and a mother and baby home during the period investigated by the commission.

It is still involved involved in education from pre-school upwards as well as services for people with intellectual disability and services for older people.

The order runs St Vincent’s Trust, a community education service in the north inner city. This includes a nursery, a high support school and adult education.

The order has a presence in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Belfast, Drogheda and in Carnew, Co Wicklow.

Good Shepherd Sisters

The Good Shepherd Sisters, which originated in France, ran four industrial schools in the south and a reformatory school in Limerick.

Today, the Irish Sisters are primarily involved in activities such as working with women involved in prostitution.

It has strong links with the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge and in 1989, the orders jointly founded Ruhama, which works with women involved in prostitution.

It also provides sheltered accommodation, supports victims of domestic abuse and does parish and youth work.


The Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran Daingean Reformatory School in Co Offaly and a detention school at Scoil Ard Mhuire in Lusk, during the period investigated by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

Founded in Ireland in the 1850s, the Oblates are now best known for their missionary work in countries such as Sri Lanka and Congo. They also run some parishes in Dublin and work with community groups in disadvantaged areas. There are about 50 Oblates in Ireland, with some 4,000 internationally.

Hospitaller order

The Hospitaller Order of St John of God contributed to the redress fund because it ran a day and residential school for children with learning disabilities at St Augustine’s in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

The order still runs this school and also provides mental health services, care for older people and services for children and adults with disabilities in Ireland. Up to 3,000 individuals receive support every year through services operated by over 2,000 staff and volunteers, including 36 members of the order. Worldwide, the order runs more than 250 hospitals and centres in 48 countries.

Sisters of Charity

The Religious Sisters of Charity ran five industrial schools, including St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s in Kilkenny and a group home, Madonna House, in Dublin.

It was founded by Mary Aikenhead in 1815 “to give to the poor what the rich could buy with money”.

The order now has almost 150 communities in Ireland, England and Scotland, North and South America, Australia, Nigeria, and Zambia. It has 264 sisters here, with an average age of 74 years.

It is probably best known for its hospice work and its work with marginalised people such as homeless people, prisoners, immigrants and those with addictions.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, president of Focus Ireland, is one of its most prominent members.

The order founded St Vincent’s Hospital and St Vincent’s Private Hospital and took over St Michael’s Hospital in Dún Laoghaire from the Sisters of Mercy in 2001.

It also has a presence in a large number of healthcare facilities including convalescent and nursing homes, where it provides chaplaincy and pastoral care and does voluntary work.

De La Salle Brothers

The De La Salle Brothers had long experience of residential care in England before getting involved in residential care here in 1972 when St Laurence’s School in Finglas, Dublin, was opened. They ceased involvement in that school in 1994.

The De La Salle Brothers now runs two primary schools in Waterford and Dublin and about 10 post-primary schools around the country. It also runs two retreat centres in Dublin and Portlaoise. There are about 80 De La Salle Brothers in Ireland with a further 20 doing missionary work abroad.

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge ran an industrial school in Drumcondra and a reformatory school in Kilmacud during the period investigated by the commission. It is a relatively small order with an aged profile in Ireland.

It was founded in Normandy, France in 1641 and invited into Ireland in the late 1800s to provide a refuge for fallen women. Like the Good Shepherd Sisters, it got involved in the Magdalene laundries, most notably, in High Park in Drumcondra. It later went on with the Good Shepherd Sisters to found Ruhama, which works with prostitutes.

Sisters of St Clare

The Sisters of St Clare ran an industrial school in Cavan and an orphanage with an attached school in Harold’s Cross during the period investigated by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

The French order’s presence in Ireland started in 1629 when a convent was set up in Dublin by a number of Irish women who had entered a Poor Clares convent in Belgium. In 1973, it was decided that the order would become known as the Sisters of St Clare to avoid confusion with the enclosed Poor Clares.

The Sisters closed the Harolds Cross Orphanage in 1981. The majority of the 24 sisters are now retired but a small number continue to work in the community in areas such as voluntary counselling and early school leaving projects.

Sisters of St Louis

The Sisters of St Louis ran St Martha’s Industrial School in Bundoran, Co Donegal and Sisters also worked in St Joseph’s Orphanage in Bundoran, which was under diocesan management. Today, the order is best known for its work in primary and post-primary education, but its involvement has been scaled back greatly in recent years. However, it has retained trusteeship of schools in Monaghan town, Carrickmacross, Dundalk and Rathmines. Care for aged Sisters has become a large part of its work.

Presentation Sisters

The Presentation Sisters ran St Francis’s Industrial School in Cashel and St Bernard’s Industrial School in Dundrum, Co Tipperary. The sisters still have strong involvement in dozens of primary and post-primary schools around the State. It also works with students with special needs, including pre-school children. Sisters also do work in areas such as counselling, palliative care and hospital chaplaincy.

There are 726 sisters in 123 communities around Ireland.

Dominican Fathers

The Dominican Fathers have a long tradition of education in Ireland. They ran St Saviour’s Boys Home in Dominick Street, Dublin and decided to participate in the redress scheme after receiving some complaints from former residents.

The order is still involved in education and it supplies friars to hospitals, prisons, schools, universities and the Defence Forces. A large number of friars conduct retreats at home and abroad.

Daughters of the Heart of Mary

The Daughters of the Heart of Mary ran St Joseph’s Orphanage in Dún Laoghaire from 1860 to 1985. It also ran a school, retreat house and two guest houses for retired women.

The order was founded in France during the revolution in 1790. Mary Ann O’Farrell from Co Kildare joined the order in Paris and in 1856 she set up the orphanage in Dún Laoghaire. The Sisters have been involved in education in Ireland since 1860 and the order is patron of St Joseph’s Primary School in Dún Laoghaire. It is also involved in social work and prayer groups.

Brothers of Charity

The Brothers of Charity ran two schools for children with learning disabilities, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Lota in Cork and Holy Family School in Renmore, Co Galway, during the period investigated by the commission.

The Brothers of Charity Services was founded in Belgium in 1807 by Canon Peter Triest. The brothers opened their first services in Ireland in 1883 to provide for mental health needs. Today the congregation is the largest provider of services for people with an intellectual disability in the State, with facilities in the west and south of the country.

Sisters of Nazareth

The Sisters of Nazareth ran Nazareth House, a residential home for children in Sligo town and also provided services for the elderly at the time under investigation by the commission.

Some 1,851 children passed through the home between 1910 and its closure in 1993. It later became a nursing home.

The Sisters of Nazareth, which is a small order in Ireland, is now involved in care of the aged, including care of its own members. The order was founded by French woman Victoire Larmenier in London in the 1850s to care for the aged poor and it later extended its remit to children.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times