Cummins, Catherine (1879–1967), Sister of Charity and founder member of Cappagh Orthopaedic Hospital, was born 6 February 1879 in Dublin, one of thirteen children of Patrick Cummins and Mary Cummins (née Kelly). Patrick was the proprietor of four pawnbroking establishments in Dublin, so the children would have grown up with an awareness of the struggles and problems of the poor. Two of them, Mary and Catherine, subsequently devoted their lives to the service of the poor as Sisters of Charity.
After her return from the Ursuline convent, Waterford, where she had been a boarder, Catherine used to visit the Children's Hospital, Temple St., and felt attracted by this form of nursing. She had a special love for those children who were poor or deprived, as many then were. At the age of 19, on 16 August 1898, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in Milltown. Six months later she was received as a novice and given the name ‘Polycarp ’, which means ‘multiple fruits’, symbolic of her future life of service of the poor.
Sr M. Polycarp was professed on 19 February 1901 and sent to Temple St. to train for children's nursing. She was a devoted nurse, kind and compassionate. In 1913 she was appointed superior of the Temple St. community and the scope of her activities widened. Sympathetic to Irish republicanism, during the war of independence she sheltered republicans ‘on the run’.
About the year 1920 plans were afoot for an open-air orthopaedic hospital at Cappagh, where since 1908 the Sisters of Charity had operated a convalescent home for children from Temple St., thanks to a bequest from the late Lady Martin. It had become a training school for nursery nurses under the direction of a secular matron. Mother Polycarp was asked to take charge of the preparations for the hospital, though still superior of Temple St. Three army huts were bought, and formed the nucleus of what became an ultra-modern hospital. By Christmas 1920 the children in residence were sent home, having completed their term of convalescence, and work began on the transformation. In 1921 St Mary's Open-air Orthopaedic Hospital was a reality. In 1924 Lady Martin's house became the home of a community of sisters, with Mother Polycarp as superior. Having qualified as a state registered nurse, she trained in orthopaedic nursing in Pinner, Middlesex, England.
By 1930 Cappagh Hospital was officially recognised as a training school for nurses. Probationers took their first state examination there and completed their orthopaedic training during their term of two years, passing on to one of the Dublin hospitals for completion of their general training. As for the children, besides medical care they received a good education. As far back as 1923 the school had been recognised by the national board of education, the pupils being taught in their beds. The Montessori method was used with younger children. Handwork and crafts of all sorts were taught. Ireland's first troupe of Invalid Boy Scouts was formed in Cappagh.
During the eucharistic congress of 1932 an altar had been erected on O'Connell Bridge, on a high platform reached by steps, with glass walls and loudspeakers so that everyone could see and hear. Mother Polycarp got the idea of purchasing this for Cappagh. This was jokingly referred to as ‘Polly's folly’, but she went ahead and by December of that year the altar was set up where it could be seen from all the wards, for mass on Christmas day.
Mother Polycarp later worked with children with disabilities in St Mary's Hospital, Baldoyle, an auxiliary hospital to Cappagh, and initiated the ‘Little Willie’ committee which paid the debt on that hospital. When transferred to Harold's Cross, she devoted her attention to the provision of extra accommodation for the terminally ill in Our Lady's Hospice. Finally she moved to Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock, where she died on 11 November 1967. She is buried in the convent cemetery in Donnybrook.