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Mary Frances Clarke to join Irish American Hall of Fame

Mary Frances ClarkeMarch 3, 2014: Mary Frances Clarke, BVM, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Clarke University, in Dubuque, is one of nine inductees chosen from over 400 nominees worldwide for the 2014 Class of the Irish American Hall of Fame (IAHOF). Honored in the Education category, Mother Clarke was nominated by BVM Mary Alma Sullivan, who wrote the winning proposal.

An Awards Gala will be held April 12, 2014, at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, which sponsors the IAHOF. BVM President Teri Hadro, who will accept the award on behalf of the congregation, says, “Mary Frances Clarke was a humble, middle class Irish émigré who likely never aspired to a Hall of Fame of any kind. But she knew in her bones that education was the ticket to the surviving and thriving of immigrants in 19th century America.”

Born in Dublin in 1802, Mary Frances Clarke, as a young adult, directed a Dublin school, Miss Clarke’s Seminary, and helped people stricken during the cholera epidemic. She and four other like-minded women forged bonds of friendship and service. The small group embarked on a mission to educate Catholic immigrants in the United States. The congregation of sisters Clarke founded in Philadelphia in 1833 went on to admit nearly 5,000 women who established and staffed more than 1,000 elementary and secondary schools, as well as Clarke University in Dubuque, and Mundelein College in Chicago.

Mary Frances Clarke promoted a progressive philosophy of education that excluded no one regardless of ability to pay. She believed in teaching students without seeming to teach, saying, “We must wake up their minds by constantly calling into action their powers of observation and reasoning and incite them to ascertain for themselves.”

With innovative leadership, Mary Frances Clarke embraced the challenges of the American frontier. Her vision was fulfilled in the ensuing years by the Sisters of Charity, BVM, who have devoted their lives and ministries to their core values of education, charity, justice and freedom. Today BVMs have over 420 sisters and 180 lay associates. They minister in 20 states and in Ecuador and Ghana.

A banner created to honor Mary Frances Clarke will be displayed, along with others representing outstanding recipients, at the Irish American Heritage Center. Founded in 1976, the mission of the Center is to preserve Irish culture, heritage and tradition. The purpose of the Irish American Hall of Fame is to tell the story of the impact of the Irish in America.

For more information, contact the Clarke University Marketing and Communication Office at (563)588-6318.

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