Sister Ignatia

This special nun cared for thousands of alcoholics for decades of her life. Sister Mary Ignatia (1889-1966) was beloved by all who were associated with or helped by her. She was often referred to as the “Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous.”


Born Della Mary Gavin in 1889 in Ireland, Sister Ignatia worked closely with Dr. Bob. Starting in 1939, they worked together to help admit alcoholics into St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. She surmounted obstacles to personally care for thousands of alcoholics. For several decades, she helped alcoholics in Akron and later at St. Vincent Charity Hospital in Cleveland.

Sister Ignatia was beloved by all who were associated with or helped by her. She was often referred to as the “Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

She was originally a musician. Her order, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Augustine, transferred Sister Ignatia to Akron. She worked in the admissions office at St. Thomas Hospital. It was in that capacity that she first met and worked with Dr. Bob. Speaking with Bill W., Sister shared cherished recollections of her work with Dr. Bob.

Dr. Bob was the essence of professional dignity. He had a fine sense of humor and exceptional vocabulary…. Now, as I look back over the years, I realize that Dr. Bob was slowly but surely preparing me for the great project he had in mind. We often discussed the problem of alcoholism and the tragedies caused by excessive drinking. The individual given to alcoholic addiction is frequently a wreck of humanity – broken in body and soul, and heart and unable to help himself. His loved ones suffer, too; there were many broken homes and hearts because of compulsive drinking.”
— Sister Ignatia in a recorded interview with Bill W. in 1954
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Her work in helping alcoholics was done with much dignity and modest distinction. In December 1949, she was presented with the Poverello Medal of the College of Steubenville. The medal was given to her on behalf of the A.A. Fellowship for her untiring efforts with alcoholics in Akron. In March 1961, Sister Ignatia received a letter of acknowledgment from The White House.  She shared this letter about her pioneering contributions with Bill W. The letter read:


Dear Sister Mary Ignatia:

Through an admirer of yours, the President has learned of the fine work you have done in the past at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, and, more recently, at St. Vincent’s in Cleveland.

He has been informed that a large number of citizens have been restored to useful citizenship as a result of your efforts. As you have been a strong influence for the good to many people, you have added strength to your community and nation.”
— Letter from the White House to Sister Ignatia

In response to receiving a copy of the President’s letter, Bill responded to Sister Ignatia and wrote:

We have read the marvelous letter which President Kennedy requested be sent to you. It reminds me that I have no words to tell of my devotion and my gratitude to you, of the constant inspiration you have given me and so many over the years by your example of the finest in all that is spiritual and eternal, as well as temporal."
— Letter from Bill W. to Sister Ignatia

Following Dr. Bob’s death in 1950, Sister Ignatia continued her work at St. Thomas. Then in 1952, she transferred to St. Vincent Charity Hospital at Cleveland. She was in charge of its alcoholic ward. Upon arrival, the ward at “Charity” was part of a dilapidated wing and was in great need of rejuvenation. The ward was transformed with Sister’s urging and much help from A.A. members with carpentry skills. Its new name became Rosary Hall Solarium.

Sister Ignatia provided each patient who left her care with a Sacred Heart badge. She asked each recipient to promise that they would return the badge before they drank again.

She died in Richfield, Ohio, at age 77, on April 1, 1966. There were reportedly about 3,000 people present at the funeral, including A.A.’s co-founder, Bill W.