Sister Ignatia

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Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin, C.S.A., (January 1, 1889–April 1, 1966) of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, was known as The Drunk's "Angel of Hope"

Early life[edit]

Sister Ignatia was born in Ireland as Bridget Della Mary Gavin on 1 January 1889 at Shanvalley, Burren, in County Mayo.


Having moved to the United States, in 1914 she entered the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine in Ohio, at which time she took the name Sister Mary Ignatia. A superb musician, she was assigned to teach music. She did this for about ten years, but found it "too hectic" and suffered a nervous breakdown. When she recovered, she began working as a nurse. On August 16, 1935, Sister Ignatia was in charge of admissions at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. She and Dr. Bob Smith admitted the first alcoholic patient who would be the first of millions to participate in the Twelve-step program of recovery, the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Many of ideas of Alcoholics Anonymous — including the use of tokens to mark milestones in sobriety — were introduced by Sister Ignatia. She would give alcoholics leaving St. Thomas Hospital a medallion of the Sacred Heart, instructing them that the acceptance of the medallion represented commitment to God, to A.A. and to recovery. She added that if they were going to drink, they should first return the medallion.

She was the first to recognize the use of coffee for alcoholics, insisting that it be freely available in every stage of recovery.

Between 1935 and 1965 she successfully treated thousands of alcoholics. Sister Ignatia pioneered the recognition of alcoholism among priests and Religious Sisters. She was remembered for her kindness, honesty and non-judgmental love.

In 1961, given an award by U.S. President John F. Kennedy, she accepted the award not for herself but in the name of her religious congregation and profession.

In 1954, she was awarded the Catherine of Siena Medal by the Theta Phi Alpha Fraternity. She was honored for her "outstanding achievement in one of our major problems affecting our country today — alcoholism."

"The alcoholic is deserving of sympathy. Christ-like charity and intelligent care are needed so that with God's grace he or she may be given the opportunity to accept a new philosophy of life." -Sister Ignatia

Sister Ignatia retired in May 1965. She died eleven months later, on April 1, 1966.

The March 10, 2008 edition of Modern Healthcare magazine reported that Sister Ignatia had been honored as a 2008 inductee into their "Health Care Hall of Fame."


*Sister Ignatia - Second Edition: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Mary Darrah

External links[edit]