Cosgrave, Mary Anne (Patrick) (1863–1900), pioneer nurse in Rhodesia, educationist, and Dominican prioress, was born 22 May 1863 in Summerhill, Co. Meath, one of four children of a member of the Irish Constabulary, who came from Ballysilla, near Oulart Hill, Co. Wexford. Her mother died when she was about ten years old of tuberculosis, and her father died of the same disease soon afterwards, leaving two sons and two daughters; no more details of her family background are known. Her brothers found employment in the Dublin & Wexford Railway, the elder also contracting tuberculosis. Her other brother emigrated to America, where it is thought he too succumbed to disease. Before his death, her father took her and her sister Kathleen to live with his cousin, John Cosgrave of Ballinvary, Davidstown, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. She attended the Loreto convent, Enniscorthy, until the age of fifteen. In 1880 she encountered Bishop J. D. Ricards (1828–93), vicar apostolic of the eastern districts of the Cape Colony, during his visit to Wexford to seek recruits for the Dominican convent in King William's Town. Greatly inspired by Ricard's summons, and aged only sixteen, Mary travelled to King William's Town and entered the order, which emphasised teaching and nursing, ultimately taking the name in religion of Patrick. She taught at the convent school there and in East London and Potchefstroom.
In November 1889 Sister Patrick responded to an appeal from Fr A. Daignault, SJ, superior of the Jesuit Zambezi mission, supported by Cape premier Cecil John Rhodes, for Dominican volunteers to constitute an ambulance and hospital service for the British South Africa Company's pioneer column, then being assembled for the occupation of Mashonaland. She was appointed mother superior of a party of five sisters who, instead of accompanying the pioneer column, remained behind to run its base hospital at Macloutsie. She related particularly well to the commander of the column, Col. Edward Pennefather (1850–1928), who came from Co. Wexford.
In July 1891 the sisters journeyed to Fort Salisbury (Harare) in Mashonaland, accompanied by Maj. Arthur Glyn Leonard (qv), a protestant Irish home ruler and ardent Parnellite, who greatly admired and was charmed by Mother Patrick, apart from her ‘hideous’ uniform. He shared her love of their common homeland, despite her opposition to the recently disgraced Charles Stewart Parnell (qv). Leonard leaves us with the most vivid description of her: ‘She is a young Irish woman with a pretty brogue, and a face which is sweet beyond measure – not with the beauty of the flower that fades, but with the beauty of a pure and noble expression that is immortal, though tinged at times with a shade of sadness’ (Leonard, 30).
In Salisbury she set about organising the first hospital, located in a collection of grass huts and tents, until these were replaced by a permanent purpose-built building in 1895. She soon gained a reputation for humanity, treating gunshot victims, alcoholics, and syphilitics alike, as well as for her good humour – she once danced an Irish jig to cheer up her hospital patients. In October 1892 she opened the Salisbury convent, the first school for Europeans (which would later go on to educate, among others, the feminist novelist Doris Lessing). In 1894, following the occupation of Matabeleland, she founded a hospital and convent school, St George's College for Boys, in Bulawayo.
In 1896 Southern Rhodesia was engulfed by African uprisings in Matabeleland and Mashonaland. She was awarded the British South Africa Company's campaign medal for accompanying relief columns to Gwelo, where she organised an emergency hospital, and to Salisbury. Two years later the Rhodesian Dominicans separated from the mother house at King William's Town to form an independent community. In June 1898 she toured England in search of postulants, where she was invested with the Royal Red Cross, and was elected prioress of the Dominican order in Southern Rhodesia on her return. On 31 July 1900 she died in her own hospital of tuberculosis. After the largest European funeral held in the territory, she was buried in the pioneer section of Salisbury cemetery, attended by the whole community and the most senior officials of the British South Africa Company.
Personally charming, ecumenically advanced, and a keen organiser, she was immensely popular among the largely non-catholic pioneer community. This esteem for her and her sisters did much to ensure that white Rhodesians were generally not marked by the kind of anti-catholic and anti-Irish prejudices that often characterised other British settler societies. Crucially, such respect did much to smooth the political passage of the colonial-born but avowedly Irish catholic Sir Charles Coghlan (1863–1927), who became the territory's founding prime minister in 1924. He led the annual pilgrimage to her grave on St Patrick's day, which became a permanent ritual of the Irish community in Southern Rhodesia. On 17 March 1903 her grave was marked by a seven-foot-high granite Celtic cross, designed by a Salisbury Irishman, Hugh J. Scott, and unveiled by the resident commissioner, Sir Marshal Clarke (1841–1909), who came from Tipperary. Her pioneer hospital, a tiny prefabricated hut, remained a museum dedicated to her, incongruously dwarfed by the high-rise buildings of modern central Salisbury. In the 1970s her image was included in a series of postage stamps commemorating the pioneers of Rhodesia, by which time the post-conciliar Dominican order was encouraging a very different approach to the white Rhodesian cause and its imperial project, which Mother Patrick had so earnestly and crucially promoted.