Hannah Brennan
'The Holy Nun'

(Sister Mary Alphonsa 1914 - 1940)

A short biography of Hannah Brennan

c.1938 Sister Mary Alphonsa in Lucknow.
Sister Mary Alphonsa (Hannah Brennan) Headstone in Loreto Convent Cemetery, Lucknow. India

Hannah Brennan was born on 25 October 1874 in Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois Ireland.  She was the daughter of Mark Brennan and Katie Lalor also of Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois. On the 21 August 1904 Hannah was a bridesmaid to her sister Christina Brennan when she married Joe Bolger in Dublin.  There was another sister Annie Brennan and all three sisters were living and working in Dublin around this time.   Sometime between 1904 and 7th July 1914 she entered the Loreto Convent in Rathfarnham, Dublin.  

She was then sent from Dublin to Loreto Convent, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (Formally known as United Provence) in India where she made her First Vows on the completion of her novitiate on the 21st June 1917 and she was then known as Sister Mary Alphonsa.  She took up teaching the Catechism to the children in the local Junior School at Lucknow.  It is also reported that she was very artistic and used to teach Needlework to the school children. One of her many jobs in the Convent was to welcome visitors to whom she was always very gracious.

Lucknow is about 100 miles from the Nepal border and is about 560 miles north east of Calcutta.

The trip to the India continent was either by Cargo ship or overland and would have taken between six to eight weeks to arrive there depending on the weather.  This trip was taken during the height of the First World War, which broke out in Austria in July/ August of 1914.   In 1934 Sister Mary Alphonsa was in the city of Shimla, India, which is about 380 miles from Lucknow and very close to the Chinese and Nepal borders. Sister Breen, who was close to Sister Mary Alphonsa, reported that her health was not the best, but that she never complained and was well looked after. They often went for walks in the garden together.  During Thunder Storms, of which there were many and quite severe in the region, they were both afraid of these storms and they would both sit behind the piano and comfort each other and they would both pray together until the storm had passed.

On 29 October 1939, Sister Mary Alphonsa wrote one of her rare letters home to Ireland and in the letter she asked that my Mum (Lily Brennan) visit her Mother and Fathers grave in the Graveyard of Arles in Co. Laois.  She explained that four trees, two on either side, surrounded the graveyard but there was no headstone and this was the only grave in Arles Cemetery with four trees so that she would know exactly where the grave was.  Her grandfather William Brennan is also buried in this grave.

Sister Mary Alphonsa and her brother Martin Brennan (1885-1963) used to sit around the house in Ballickmoyler writing poems and songs when they were young.  Then when she went to India she sent occasional letters to her Nieces, Lily Brennan, Katty Brennan and Molly Brennan asking them to send her Irish poems and songs which we believe she would recite to the school children in India where she taught.

Details about Great Aunt Hannah's life before she entered the Convent are almost non existent at this time.  Her mother CATHERINE (KATIE) LALOR died in 13 Jan 1893 5 months after John Brennan was born in August 1892 which would indicate that it was left up to Hannah to look after John, Martian, Michael, Christina and Anne who were all 10 years and younger at the time of their mothers death.

It is reputed that she loved to sing and I am told (by Pat 'Kitty' Brennan) that she once wrote a song entitled "Coopers Lovely Wild Demesne (pronounced Domain)".  There is no trace of this song now but if it is true we can assume that it had something to do with the Cooper Family who once owned most of the land around Cooper Hill and Ballickmoyler and the Cooper Family once lived in the big house in Cooper Hill which was given to them by Queen Elizabeth 1. (1558-1603).

Sister Mary Alphonsa died in Lucknow on the 29 February 1940 (leap year) aged 58 and is buried in the Convent Cemetery in Lucknow, India.

The following are extracts from letters sent to me from Dublin and India during my research of Sister Mary Alphonsa.

2nd  Jan 1996 - In a letter received from Mother Celine from Lucknow she gave me the name of a sister who may have known G/Aunt Hannah. Her name is Sister Consiglio Frayne who works in Ranchi, which is a town about 200 miles west of Calcutta.

Records are currently kept at Loreto Provincialate, 7, Middleton Row, Calcutta-700 071. India. Phone: 29-7054 or 29-7767. Fax 29-7767.

5th Jan 1996 - Letter for Sister M. Jude, IBVM. Of Calcutta. INDIA - With Sister Mary Alphonsa Date of Birth (22nd October 1882) & date of Death.

Jan 1996 - In a letter that I received from Sister Marie Therese Breen, IBVM.  She explains that she knew Sister Mary Alphonsa (Great Aunt Hannah) and describes her as a 'Dear Lady' of medium height, pale complexion and on the 'plump side'.  She was always in good spirits and ready for a bit of fun.  She was also a very 'Holy Nun'.  I also received G/Aunt Hannah's Date of Birth and Parents names.  She mentions that Sister Mary Alphonsa was a lovely sister, very gentle and full of fun and was very much liked by everyone.

July 1996 - I received a letter from Mother Celine - Sister Frayne has since suffered a stroke while in Ranchi and was flown to Calcutta where she died.

August 1996 - Letter from Sister Mary Blake. Central Archives, Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.   She states that there are no more facts in their records that they can tell me about Sister Mary Alphonsa.  They only had her name on file.  They did not know where she came from or who her parents were.  Sister Mary states that there were very sparse records kept in those days and that she probable entered Loreto India and only spent a little time in Rathfarnham before sailing with professed sisters to India.

Harry Webb (Sir Cliff Richard - the UK pop singer) was born in Lucknow in 1940 and may have attended school in the Convent there.

LUCKNOW was founded from DARJEELING in 1872 and is the is the capital city of UTTAR PRADESH province, situated in a mountainous district in Northern India. It is often referred to as “The Old Royal City of Lucknow”. The British Government asked the Sisters to establish a school in Lucknow.  This they did as well as establishing a number of orphanages. The city is situated in India's northern province of Uttar Pradesh. Steeped in its past of refined courtly life played out in elaborate palaces, it is a memorable place to visit. Explore the city's streets with its magnificently diverse architecture and uncover its fascinating history


"FIRST THE BLADE" 333 pp  (LORETO IN INDIA: INDIAN MISSION) by Mother Mary Colmcille, IBVM. (Published in Calcutta). The book has a good Index from page 312. LUCKNOW is written about in several places throughout the book.
Information supplied by Sister PAULA DOOLIN, IBVM, (INSTITUTE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY), Loreto central Archives, 55 St.Stephen's Green, Dublin 2. IRELAND

Birth Name:
Loreto Convent, Lucknow, INDIA.
Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin
Date & Place:
1. -  25th October 1874 at Coopers House, Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois. - Source: Baptismal Cert.
2. - 1887 - 1901 Census of Ireland 
3. - 22nd October 1882 (Source: Loreto Provincialate, INDIA - Sister M. Jude, IBVM letter).
4. - 22nd October 1881 (Source: Loreto Central Archives, Dublin - Sister P. Doolin, IBVM letter).
5. - 21st June 1917 in Loreto Convent, Lucknow.
6. - 21st June 1923. Loreto Convent, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. INDIA
Name of Parents
Father - MARK BRENNAN (1841-1902) Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois. IRELAND
Mother - CATHERINE (KATE) LALOR (1859-1893) Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois. IRELAND
Date Entered:  11th January 1914. Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. INDIA (SOURCE: Loreto Provinciality, INDIA - Sister M. Jude, IBVM).
Name of Order: Loreto Sisters, Loreto Convent, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. INDIA
Religious Name: Sister Mary Alphonsa.
Date of Profession: First Vows on the completion of her novitiate on the 21st June 1917 in Loreto Convent, Lucknow. (SOURCE: : Loreto Provincialate, INDIA - Sister M. Jude, IBVM Letter).
Final Profession & Place 21st June 1923. INDIA
Date & Place of Death: 29th February 1940 - Loreto Convent, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. INDIA
Where Buried: Convent Cemetery, Loreto Convent, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. INDIA

Source:  Michael Brennan 2000 - Grandnephew to Hannah Brennan

The End


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The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in County Laois.
Michael Brennan July 2001. All Rights reserved

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