Caring for people with leprosy since 1895
St Francis Leprosy Guild – formerly St Francis Leper Guild – was founded on 23 October 1895 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 the time, there was no known cure.
Kate Marsden, the moving spirit behind the Guild’s foundation, had witnessed the horrors of leprosy while working as a nurse during the Turko-Russian war in the 1870s. In 1890, Kate obtained the patronage of Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra and the Empress of Russia – and a blessing from Florence Nightingale – before setting off for Yakutia, in the far north east of Siberia. She went in search of a herb reputed to cure leprosy and to see how best to help the people affected by the disease who were known to be scattered in that vast forest area.
On her return to England, Kate 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 Geographic Society; converted to Catholicism; became a Franciscan Tertiary and was instrumental in the founding of St Francis Leprosy Guild.
Religious figures who have inspired our work