Frances Owen-Lewis was born in Marylebone, London, England in April 17, 1873, one of a family of six. Her father had an estate at Inishkeen, Co. Monaghan and for a time was M.P. for Carlow. Frances was tutored at home by governesses and then went to study at the Sacred Heart Convent, Hove, Sussex.
In 1897 she married Captain Sir Alfred Moloney K.C.M.G., Governor of the Windward Islands and later Governor of Trinidad, West Indies. He suffered from ill-health and when they were in Italy in 1913 he became seriously ill and died in hospital. While grieving for him, Frances had an audience with Pope Pius X who assured her that God would comfort her in his own way.
At the outbreak of World War I she came to Ireland and gave herself to charitable works, at first helping the Belgian war refugees in Dublin. Always deeply religious, with the advice of her Director she took private vows and her deepest wish was to become a missionary. When in 1918 she heard of Father Blowick’s appeal for women missionaries, especially nurses and doctors, for work in China she felt that this was the challenge she was seeking. She entered into dialogue with him and together they took steps towards the foundation of the congregation that was to become the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban. Frances went to train in Midwifery in the National Maternity Hospital and in General Nursing in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, and she tried to extend her knowledge in every area that might be of use in China. When approval had been received from Rome for the new foundation and a house had been procured near the Columban Fathers’ seminary in Cahiracon, Co. Clare, Frances was among the first group of women who began their training there on February 7, 1922.
Frances was received into the congregation on October 4, 1922, taking the religious name, Sister Mary Patrick. She made her First Profession on July 29, 1925. The following year she was selected to be in the first group of Sisters to leave for China where they were to make a foundation in Bishop Galvin’s vicariate in Hanyang. They arrived there in November 1926 and Sister Mary Patrick was to spend the next ten years ministering to the Chinese people with her catechetical and nursing skills and winning their hearts by her selfless dedication. In 1936 she was recalled to Ireland as she had been elected Superior General of the congregation at the second General Chapter.
She brought to this task her many talents and her wide experience. During her ten years in office war conditions in both the East and West made travel difficult but, with dauntless spirit, she set out on a visit to the missions in 1939 and, after many hazardous journeys, suffered shipwreck when the boat on which she was travelling from the United States in December 1940 was torpedoed. Though missionary work was impeded during those years there was an increase in vocations and Mother Mary Patrick saw that young Sisters were trained and educated so that when travel was again possible they were fully equipped to set out for China and the Philippines and for new openings in Burma, Hong Kong and the United States. She was elected Vicar General at the General Chapter of 1946 and, with Mother Mary Vianney, then Superior General, helped to procure approval in Rome for the revised constitutions, an approval which gave the congregation pontifical status.
When in 1947 it was decided to start the publication of a congregational magazine, “The Eastern Star” (later to be named Star of the East), Mother Mary Patrick contributed much to the first issues and remained its editor up to a few years before her death. In 1952 when she was released from congregational responsibilities she was seventy-nine years of age but she remained active with writing and correspondence and kept up a keen interest in the employees and neighbours in Cahiracon. She died in Cahiracon on August 15, 1959 and her remains were brought for burial to Magheramore where the Motherhouse had transferred two years previously.
Mother Mary Patrick was a woman of vision and courage, totally dedicated to the congregation and its mission and with a motherly interest in each Sister. Among the many virtues which she showed as a religious, poverty was outstanding; she always chose the least of material goods and she wore her clothes until they were threadbare. Her life of prayer and commitment remains a legacy and an inspiration to all Columban Sisters.