Katherine Butler

(27/05/1914 - 08/08/2000)

Sister Katherine Butler, born Katherine Bayley Butler in Dublin on May 27, 1914, was a remarkable figure whose life was characterised by dedication, learning, and adventure. As a nun with the Religious Sisters of Charity, she made significant contributions as a teacher, writer, and aviator, leaving an indelible mark on those she encountered.

From a young age, Katherine demonstrated a deep commitment to her faith and a desire to serve others. The eldest of two daughters born to James Bayley Butler and Katherine Butler (née McWeeney), she received her early education at Alexandra College, Dublin, and later at the Ursuline convent in Waterford. Despite her early inclination towards religious life, Katherine pursued a degree in science at University College Dublin before answering the call to join the Sisters of Charity.

Katherine’s interest in aviation was sparked in the early 1930s after witnessing Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Circus. Fuelled by her curiosity and determination, she embarked on flying lessons at Kildonan Aerodrome, ultimately becoming the third woman in Ireland to obtain a pilot’s license on January 15, 1936. Just five days later, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in Milltown, Dublin, where she was given the name Sister Mary Alphonsus.

Throughout her religious life, Katherine’s passion for education and service shone brightly. She graduated as a teacher in 1938 and spent many years dedicated to teaching in various schools across Great Britain and Ireland. Notably, she played a pivotal role in establishing new secondary schools for the Sisters of Charity in Foxford, County Mayo, and Walkinstown, Dublin, where she served as principal.

In addition to her teaching endeavours, Katherine was a prolific writer and historian. Her biography of Mother Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the Sisters of Charity, titled “A Candle Was Lit,” was published in 1953 and remains a testament to her literary talent and dedication to preserving the order’s legacy. She also contributed extensively to the Dublin Historical Record, winning the Old Dublin Society’s annual award multiple times for her insightful papers on various aspects of Dublin’s history and religious landscape.

Katherine’s retirement in 1977 did not mark the end of her active engagement with the world around her. Settling in the Sisters of Charity convent in Crumlin, she embarked on an innovative outreach program, visiting the homes of students to provide support and guidance. Her commitment to ecumenism and interfaith dialogue remained steadfast, as she regularly attended services and gatherings across different religious denominations.

Despite facing challenges and periods of spiritual introspection, Katherine’s faith never wavered. She approached life with gratitude and resilience, embracing both the joys and tribulations of her vocation with grace and humility.

Sister Katherine Butler passed away on August 8, 2000, in Crumlin, leaving behind a legacy of compassion, scholarship, and unwavering faith. Her life serves as an inspiration to all who strive to make a difference in the world through service and dedication to their beliefs.

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Connection with area: Irish nun, teacher, writer, and aviator who lived in Crumlin for the last 23 years of her life.