Sr. Mary Ignatia Gavin C. S. A.

Sr. Ignatia Gavin by astreip
Main Street Castlebar, Co. Mayo,_Castlebar,_Co._Mayo_(5785938352).jpg
Pont Neuf Seine Paris.
St. Vincent Charity Hospital, Cleveland
Gravestone image by Jokerr
Castlebar, Co. Mayo

Co – Founder Alcoholics Anonymous / Founder of Al – Anon

This nun was committed to assisting people with addiction problems in the U. S.  She received several plaudits for her caring compassion.

Bridget Delia Mary Gavin was born on 1st January1889 on a farm called ‘Gavin’s Field’ at Shanvalley in The Burren, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.  Her mother was Barbara Neary Gavin. (Page 26) (Tom Gillespie) [i]

Bridget Delia Mary Gavin was born on 2nd Jan 1889 in Shanvalley, Co. Mayo.  Her parents were Patrick Joseph plus Barbara Gavin (nee Neary)  She had a sibling Patrick J. [ii]


During 1896 Spring the family emigrated to Cleveland in Ohio, America.  (page 26) (Tom Gillespie) [iii]

Delia Gavin travelled to the United States with her family when she was six years old.[iv]

Delia Gavin was born in Ireland.  Aged seven with her family to U S, they settled in northern Ohio.  (The Arlington Catholic Herald St. Ignatia: Catholic Pioneer of Tough Love 19th September 2016)  [v]

Music Teacher

She was proficient at music during her school years.  Sr. Ignatia was a music teacher who earned her Batchelor of Music degree in 1925 from University of Notre Dame.  She taught music at St. Augustine Academy. [vi]

She became a musician, then a director for community music.  She was a music teacher at the Hospital of St. Thomas. (Catholic Herald St. Ignatia)  [vii]

St. Thomas’s Hospital

During 1934 St. Ignatia was appointed registrar at St. Thomas’s Hospital in Akron.  The following year she was approached by two recovering alcoholics to try their new therapy out: she provided a space thus Alcoholics Anonymous was created.  She assisted & counselled patients also promoted the A A philosophy.  During 1934 with an emergency room Intern Thomas Scuderi M. D. she  secretly began to care for patients by sobering them up in the hospitals’ flower room.  On 16th August 1952 with the assistance of Dr. Bob Smyth the first patient was admitted.  Dr Bob provided medical care while ‘reformed ‘ patients helped with the ‘spiritual’ needs of the men.  When discharged all men were provided with a Sacred Heart medallion following the five-day treatment by St. Ignatia with a promise that they would return it to her if tempted.  (Today  A A is use d as a token for Sobriety) [viii]

Her advice to patients was ‘Bend their knees instead of their elbows’ & ‘pull the curtain on the past.’  (Catholic Herald St. Ignatia)  [ix]

Alcoholics Anonymous

With Dr. Bob Smith & Bill Wilson of Arkon, a stockbroker of New York; St. Ignatia Gavin set up Alcoholics Anonymous during 1935 that has spread world-wide into a supportive caring organization.  The serenity prayer is known through the globe along with the famous ‘Twelve Steps.’ [x] 

St. Vincent Charity Hospital

On 7th August 1952 St. Ignatia arrived at the St. Vincent Charity Hospital & Health Centre in Cleveland.  She recalled that ‘We are just like people in the Army, you know. We go where we are sent…..I was there (in Arkon) for 24 years…and finally the obedience came that I was to go to Charity and work with AA  there.’  She began her plan for an alcoholism wing there.  She requested a coffee bar for the patients.  St. Ignatia opened the Rosary Hall Solarium with the first patient admitted on 15th December (initials were in honour of Dr. Bob, Robert Holbrook Smith who had passed away during 1950)  There she provided group therapy, medical assistance with spiritual counselling.  Sr. Ignatia was instrumental in founding the first Al – Anon Programme to support alcoholics families.  She dedicated special names for the five days of treatment for patients as: 1. Day of Reception, 2. Day of Realization, 3. Day of Moral Inventory, 4. Day of Resolution, 5. Day of Plans for the Future. [xi]

According to a report from Sr. Barret (a colleague of St. Ignatia)  She was an intrepid woman who was shy about public speaking but worked tirelessly not only with the alcoholics but also with their families, early in the development of Al -Anon.  ‘She was wheelchair-bound right before her retirement, but she would still go over to the ward.’ [xii]


During 1954 St. Ignatia was awarded the Catherine of Siena Medal by the Theta Pi Alpha Sorority of National Women’s Colleges for her ‘outstanding achievement in one of our major problems affecting our country today – alcoholism.’   She was recognized by American President Kennedy for her trojan work during 1961; she accepted it only in the name of her community & profession. [xiii]

St. Ignatia was admitted into the Health Care Hall of Fame for her pioneering work with alcoholics.[xiv]


For over thirty years she continued her work even through her ill health.  She retired from the St. Vincent Charity Hospital & Health Centre during May 1965. [xv]


St. Mary Ignatia demise occurred when she was aged seventy-seven years on 1st April 1966 at the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity in Richfield, Summit County, Ohio.  She was interred in Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. (section: 21, lot: 665, grave number:98) [xvi]

John Biggins staff writer Beacon Journal on 8th June 2003 penned an article titled  Alcoholics find hope at Hospital: Pilgrims & Patients mingle at Ignatia Hall.  This article referred to  Darrah M. C.’s bookSt. Ignatia; Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous’  in which she wrote ‘I knew St. Ignatia as a child.  I always wondered why nobody wrote a book about her.’ [xvii]

Further Information

Sr. Ignatia was known as ‘the Drunks Little Angel of Hope.’  [xviii]

Part of Cleveland’s East 22nd Street has been named as ‘St. Ignatia Way.’ [xix]

Darrah Mary C. 1992  St. Ignatia; Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous  (Loyola University Press) [xx]

St. Ignatia is referenced in McIntyre Erin’s  Progress & Promise-Sisters serving Northeast Ohio   (publication oavailable by emailing [xxi]

An article in honour of St. Ignatia by Sherry Gerard E. was published in the Roman Catholic The Sign as St. Ignatia & Alcoholics Anonymous,  This may be viewed at this link. [xxii]

This PDF reference at this link portrays St. Ignatia with images:


[i] The Connaught Telegraph  5th January 2021 [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[ii] Sr. Mary Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[iii] The Connaught Telegraph 5th January 2021 [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[iv] Sr. Mary Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[v] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[vi] Sr. Mary Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[vii] St. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[viii] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[ix] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[x] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xi] Ibid

[xii] 2008 – Health etc ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xiii] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xiv] 2008 – Health etc( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xv] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 8th January 2021]

[xviii] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xix] 2008 – Health etc( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xx] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xxi] Progress & Promise (  [Assessed 7th January 2021]

[xxii] Sr. Ignatia ( [Assessed 7th January 2021]


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