Butler, Dame Mary Joseph (1641–1723), Benedictine abbess, was born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, daughter of Theobald (‘Toby’) Butler of Callan, and his wife Anne Audley, originally from Attebridge, Norfolk, England. She was descended on her father's side from Edmund Butler (qv), earl of Carrick, through his son John, brother of the 1st earl of Ormond (qv). After her father's death (1649) she was sent to be educated at the Benedictine convent in Ghent, where her aunt Dame Mary Knatchbull was abbess. An extremely pious child, from the age of 12 she expressed the wish to become a nun. She was professed at the convent in Boulogne in the winter of 1657, and the following year was moved to Pontoise. She remained there until 1683, when she was included in a group of Irish nuns sent to Ypres to revive the flagging fortunes of the Irish Benedictine convent there. Butler was elected abbess of the Ypres convent on 29 August 1686 after the death of its first Irish superior, Dame Flavia Carey. Having established herself at the head of the small community, she was summoned to Dublin in 1687 by Richard Talbot (qv), earl of Tyrconnell, who, acting at the request of James II (qv), invited her to found a second Benedictine house in the city. As sister of Francis Butler, the king's cup-bearer, she was James's obvious choice of abbess; however, the new convent in Great Ship St. was not considered a welcome addition by Dame Mary Joseph Ryan, who ran the existing Benedictine school and convent in Channel Row.
Butler's departure for Ireland was delayed when she was seriously injured at the Ypres convent, and she did not leave for Ireland until 1688. During her two-year absence she still retained her position as head of the Ypres house. Breaking her journey in London, she waited on the queen at Whitehall and the queen dowager, Catherine of Braganza, who presented her with altar plate. She arrived in Dublin 31 October 1688 (a year after the first nuns had arrived), and was received by the king, who issued the convent with a royal patent in June 1689. Known as the King James Abbey of Gratia Dei, the convent included a school, which initially accepted thirty pupils from gentry families. The convent's fortunes, so closely aligned with those of James, were placed in immediate jeopardy after his defeat at the Boyne, and in July 1690 it was sacked by Williamite troops. Butler managed to save the church's ornaments and hid with her sisters in neighbouring houses. Although pressed by the 2nd duke of Ormond (qv) to stay on in Dublin, she was determined that she and her community should leave Ireland, and through Ormond's influence was granted a pass from King William (qv) that guaranteed them safe passage from Ireland. On her return to Ypres she lived in extreme poverty with four lay nuns. She ignored suggestions from her family and church superiors to close the house and move to a more settled convent, and in 1696 was granted permission to beg by the bishop. The community's finances only improved in 1695 when it took in four postulants, two of whom were professed in 1700. In 1699 she was given financial help from Innocent XII. A consistent supporter of the Stuart claims to the throne, throughout this lean period she received continuing support from Mary of Modena, with whom she corresponded. By the time of her death (22 December 1723), she had reestablished a successful convent.