Butler, Katherine (1914–2000), Sister of Charity, teacher, and writer, was born 27 May 1914 in Dublin, first child of James Bayley Butler (qv), professor of biology in UCD, and Katherine Butler (née McWeeney), who came of a literary family. Katherine and her sister Beatrice, the only children of the marriage, were educated first in Alexandra School, Dublin, and later in the Ursuline convent, Waterford. From the age of 17 Katherine knew that she had a religious vocation and was determined to pursue it without delay. However, her parents persuaded her to wait until she was 21, so she took a degree in science in UCD. Having seen Sir Alan Cobham's Air Circus in the early 1930s, she became interested in aviation, and took lessons in flying which cost her 10s. a week, paid from her carefully saved pocket money. She went on to become the third woman in Ireland to receive a pilot's licence (January 1936). Five days later (20 January) she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in Milltown, Dublin. The following August, at her reception, she was given the name Sr Mary Alphonsus. In later life she was to revert to her baptismal name of Katherine. She made her profession on 26 August 1938 and for many years after that was involved in the work of education. She was an excellent teacher, always concerned about the development of the whole person of each of her pupils. She taught in England for a few years during the second world war and studied in Rome during the late 1960s, but most of her life was spent in Ireland.
Sr Katherine's interests were wide and varied. She established an outreach programme in which she visited the homes of the pupils. She loved to visit the sick and housebound, and after she had retired from teaching, was active as a eucharistic minister. She ran Bible classes and prayer groups, including one called ‘Life ascending’ for elderly people. She wrote a life of Mother Mary Aikenhead (qv), foundress of the Sisters of Charity, entitled A candle was lit, which was first published in 1953. This marked the beginning of what she used to refer to as ‘the apostolate of the pen’. She used her gift to write letters to lonely people, to prisoners, and also, on occasion, to the national newspapers. She wrote articles for magazines and periodicals. But perhaps her most notable contribution to society was in the area of ecumenism. She was keenly interested in the religious beliefs and practices of members of other denominations, Christian and non-Christian. She regularly attended services and gatherings of the Jewish community, the Salvation Army, and the quakers, among whose members she had many good friends. She wrote many papers for the Old Dublin Society and on three occasions received the Society's annual award for the best paper.
Katherine was gifted with a wonderful, youthful spirit of enthusiasm and zest for life. She was always active, even in her latter years when her health was failing and her frame was bent by osteoporosis. Totally selfless, and always intent on being of service to others, she received permission to donate her body to the College of Surgeons, to be used for medical research. She died on 8 August 2000.