McCaffrey, Mary Ellen (Sister Mary Xavier ) (1854–1923), Sister of Mercy and social worker, was born in Monaghan, daughter of Arthur McCaffrey and Catherine McCaffrey, who also had another daughter and two sons. She emigrated to the USA, where she entered St Catherine's convent of Mercy, New York City (8 December 1874), received the habit of the Sisters of Mercy and the religious name of Sister Mary Xavier (27 August 1875), and was professed (8 September 1877).
She was known as the ‘Angel of the Tombs’ for her many years of prison visitation, assistance to short- and long-term prisoners, and the many appeals she made on their behalf. Every week for fifty years Sr M. Xavier visited the prisoners of the Tombs and Sing Sing prison, the penitentiary on Welfare Island, and once a month she visited the New York Bedford reformatory for young women. She and her companion recorded the needs of prisoners in a notebook. They brought a big box of ‘dainties’ for the patients in the prison hospital. Sr M. Xavier respected the dignity of each prisoner she visited in these institutions, and considered them her friends. She looked after the families of prisoners during their term of imprisonment and also remained in contact with the wives and families of condemned prisoners after their execution. They were fed, clothed, and educated. She got clothes and work for released prisoners. The day before an execution, she would spend the day with the condemned prisoner, to comfort and pray with him. Many converts were received into the catholic church through this work.
She was held in high regard by wardens and prison staff, medical officers, judges, and politicians whom she lobbied on behalf of the prisoners. On many occasions she wrote to the governor of New York State for their release, or for leniency. Sr M. Xavier sat in courts and judges' chambers throughout New York City, pleading with the judges for mercy for those convicted. Her pleas frequently resulted in a suspended sentence, and through her help some of them became law-abiding citizens. She succeeded in clearing the names of some wrongly convicted inmates. In at least one case she found a witness for one man in Murderer's Row, secured a new trial, and saved him from the electric chair. When, due to advanced years, she could no longer visit the prisoners, she wrote to them.
Sr M. Xavier McCaffrey died 16 February 1923 at the Convent of Mercy, 1075 Madison Ave., NYC, and was buried in Clavary cemetery, New York. Many members of the judiciary attended her funeral.