Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Sister Irene
Born in London, England, 12 May, 1823; died in New York, 14 August, 1896. At the age of nine emigrated to Brooklyn, New York, with her parents, and in 1850 joined the community of the Sisters of Charity at Mount St. Vincent, New York, taking in religion the name of Irene. During her novitiate she taught in St. Peter's parish school, and finally became sister servant there. At that time no public provision was made to take are of abandoned infants. When picked up in the streets, they were sent to the municipal charity institutions to be looked after by paupers. Many were left at the doors of the sisters' schools and houses, in the evident hope that they might receive from them some special consideration. Sister Irene, noting the constant increase in number of these waifs, suggested the establishment of a foundling asylum, such as had long existed in Europe. Archbishop McCloskey sanctioned the project and in 1869 Sister Irene was assigned to carry it into effect. After visiting the public homes for infants in several cities she organized a woman's society to collect the necessary found for the proposed asylum with Mrs. Paul Thebaud as its head. By their aid a house (17 East Twelfth Street) was hired, and here on 11 October, 1869, the foundling asylum was opened with a crxche at its door. On the evening of the same day it held its first infant, and forty-four others followed before the first month passed. Within a year a large house (3 Washington Square, North) had to be taken.
In 1870 the city was authorized by the Legislature to give the asylum the block bounded by Third and Lexington Avenues, Sixty-eighth and Sixty-ninth Streets, for the site of a new building, and $100,000 for the building fund, provided a similar amount was raised by private donation. Of the required sum, $71,500 was realized by a fair held in 1871, and $27,500 came from three private donations. The new building was opened in October, 1873. The city pays 45 cents a day each for all children cared for under two years of age, and 32 cents for all over that age. It costs (1909) $1000 a day to run the institution, in which from six to seven hundred children are sheltered, with more than 1500 others on the outdoor list. In addition to what is paid by the city, $40,000 is donated annually by Catholic charity to carry on the work. Since it was opened, 50,000 children have been placed in good homes throughout the country, the average of those thus given for adoption being from two and a half to three years. The title of "The Foundling Asylum", under which it was incorporated in 1869, was changed by legal enactment in 1891 to "The New York Foundling Hospital". In addition to caring for the children, homeless and indigent mothers are also provided for, to the yearly average of five hundred. St. Ann's Maternity Hospital was opened for them in 1880 and in 1881 a children's hospital at Spuyten Duyvil on the Hudson. Sister Irene's whole life was given to the care of foundlings, and just before she died she added the Seton Hospital for incurable comsuptives, the cost of which ($350,000) she collected herself.
THOMAS F. MEEHAN