St Francis Leprosy Guild (known until the 1960s as St Francis Leper
Guild) was founded on 23 October 1895 by a group of lay people in
London. Saint Damien, who had worked for years among leprosy sufferers
at Molokai in Hawaii, had recently died and his fame had spread
around the world arousing considerable concern about leprosy, for
which at that time there was no known cure.
Kate Marsden, the moving spirit behind the Guild’s foundation,
had witnessed the horrors of leprosy while a nurse during the Turko-Russian
war in the 1870s. In 1890 she obtained the patronage of Queen Victoria,
Princess Alexandra and the Empress of Russia (and a blessing from
Florence Nightingale), and set off for Yakutia, the far north eastern
region of Siberia in search of a herb reputed to cure leprosy, and
to see how best to help the people affected by leprosy known to
be scattered in that vast forest area.
Continuing the work
On her return to England she wrote a book ‘On Sledge and Horseback
to Outcast Siberian Lepers’ and lectured in England and the
United States to publicise the plight of leprosy sufferers and to
raise funds. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical
Society; converted to Catholicism; became a Franciscan Tertiary;
and was the moving sprit in the founding of St Francis Leprosy Guild
A meditation on our patron Saint by the Very Rev. Father
Michael Copps, OFM, Spiritual Director of the Guild.