Since its founding in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped hundreds of thousands around the world work towards maintaining sobriety and combating the sin of drunkenness. Most people don’t know that a key founder who helped start the program was a Catholic Nun by the name of Sister Mary Ignatia.

“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 2290

Born in 1889, Bridget Della Mary Gavin grew up in a rural farm town of Ireland, until she emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1896. There, she attended Catholic school and studied music. Despite her mothers wishes, she joined the Sisters of Charity of Saint Augustine at the age of 25 as a late vocation, and was given the name Ignatia.

She was a music instructor teaching in the Cleveland school system for a number of years, until her order transferred her to hospital ministry. In 1928, Saint Thomas Hospital in Akron opened and she was appointed head of admissions. As head admissions officer, she became friends with Dr. Bob, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. In 1934, she began trying to treat patients with alcoholism from both a medical and ministerial perspective, a concept not welcomed by many hospitals at the time.

In 1939, 4 years after founding Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob was able to convince Sister Ignatia to admit a patient with alcoholism to Saint Thomas Hospital. Working with Dr. Bob and Bill W., the other co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, the three founded the first alcoholic treatment center of its kind in the United States. Her work in treating patients with alcoholism was so effective and charismatic she was given the moniker “AA’s Angel,” her biographer writing that:

“Put briefly, AA’s angel was a strong, empathetic woman who extracted goodness from every situation and resolved to leave the world a little better than she found it. Ignatia had all the charisma of an Irish anamchara, or soul friend, so she easily folded the troubled into her heart.”

She was even recognized on the national level, with then-president John F. Kennedy sending her a letter of acknowledgment commending her on achievements.

Two years after Dr. Bob’s passing, she was transferred in 1952 by her order to Saint Vincent Charity Hospital in Cleveland, and placed in charge of the alcoholic ward. She quickly founded the Rosary Hall Solarium, a treatment center for alcoholics. During her 14 years of working there, she helped treat over 15,000 patients. When she passed in 1966, her funeral had over 3,000 in attendance, including Bill W.

Today, the works of Sister Mary Ignatia continue to live on. Her contributions shaped Alcoholics Anonymous into the helpful program it is today, and Rosary Hall remains a top treatment center for substance addictions in the United States.

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Comments

16 COMMENTS

  1. SISTER IGNATIA WAS BORN IN SHANVALLEY BURREN CASTLEBAR CO MAYO IRELAND IN 1889.SHE LEFT AT THE AGE OF 7 TO LIVE IN THE US.HER REMAINS OF HER HOME ARE STILL THERE.GOOGLE SHANVALLEY COTTAGE ABD YOU WILL SEE IT.ITS RIGHT BESIDE MY COTTAGE.SHE LEFT THERE 122 YEARS AGO ITS UNREAL WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT ,WHERE SHE WENT AND WHAT SHE HAD ACHIEVED IN HER LIFE.I AM AT PRESENT TRYING TO REBUILD PART OF HER HOME TO TRY TO NOT TO FORGET HER AND WAHT SHE HAS DONE FOR SO MANY PEOPLE INDIRECTLY.FUNDING IS A PROBLEM AS I HAVE CONTACTED THE LOCAL COUNCIL BUT NOTHING HAS COME OF IT,PITY BUT I WILL KEEP TRYING.THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.PAT NEARY.SHANVALLEY COTTAGE .

  2. SR IGNATIA CAME FROM SHANVALLEY BURREN CASTLEBAR CO MAYO IRELAND.THE REMAINS OF HER HOME WHEN SHE LEFT FOR THE US ARE STILL THERE.I WANTED TO REBUILD PART OF THE SITE IN HER MEMORY AND HAVE IT A PLACE PEOPLE CAN SEE WHERE SHE CAME FROM IN 1889.I HAVE CONTACTED THE LOCAL COUNCIL FOR FUNDING BUT TO NO AVAIL,.PITY AS SHE IS A VERY SPECIAL PERSON COMING FROM A VERY POOR BEGINNINGS.

  3. Patrick Neary is that near to Shanvalley beg,that’s where my family came from,John a Gavan my greatgrandfather built the Catholic Church there !
    Patrick thank you for your reply.
    Ray a Gavan
    Sydney
    Australia.

  4. I had the extremely amazing priveledge of being treated under her care at Rosary Hall in 1964. She has been a continuous part of my daily recovery propgram every second of every day since then. I have been in successful recovery since May 31, 1964. in my book she is already Saint Sister Mary Ignatia,

  5. Sister Ignatia was my fathers second mother after his died when he was around 7 or 8. She was at St Vincent home for children where my father and his 2 brothers went after the death of their mother. The home was called Parmadale years later. Their father worked and saw them on the weekends. This was common back in the early 1900’s She was his music teacher and he became a musician that played all over the United States and in nightclubs in Cleveland Ohio. My dad, Vincent Ruggerio was a music teacher on the West side of Cleveland.for many years. He never forgot her as my brothers and sister remember throughout the years, especially at Christmas. He saw her often.

  6. Doctor Silkworth said tis a Disease so that will do me.As for a Sin not if you don’t know you have it but if l go to AA and know my problem then lm up for ?. St Ignatias Photo is on wall of lots of AA mtg.Rooms all over Ireland and she has been talked about over the years by Bill and Bob and many others in Books and Tapes( AA ) l mean a great lady God bless her part of her work was showing an Example of Doing not Talking and leading a Spiritual Life which what AAs 12 Steps are great to read all the posts God bless ALL

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