History of St. Patrick’s Church
St. Patrick’s Church, a late Gothic Revival, also termed Neo-Gothic, style building was designed by J.J. McCarthy, a very important Irish architect, and was possibly built by local T. O’Brien, local architect and mason. The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s Church was laid on September 17, 1855, by Bishop Mullock and other distinguished clergy from Canada and the United States. American financier, Cyrus Field, contributed £1,000 to help with construction costs. Despite Field’s substantial contribution, financing the project proved difficult. Financing troubles combined with labour shortages resulted in the numerous construction delays and, consequently, the structure was not completed until 1881.
In 1864 nine years after the cornerstone was laid, work officially began on the structure with the construction the foundation from stone taken from the Southside Hills at Cudahy’s Quarry. Further problems prevented work on the project from advancing beyond the 1864 stage for a decade. Additional stone was donated in 1875 and construction began once more. Construction continued as funds and materials permitted and the church was completed in 1881. After more than two-and-a-half decades, St. Patrick’s Church was finally dedicated on August 28, 1881.
Additions have been made to the church in the years since its completion. The stations of the cross, depicting the Christ’s suffering at Easter, were erected in 1885. The presidential chair, created by a Mr. Klas, was presented in 1886. The original facing stone had to be replaced in 1911 due to deterioration and the bell tower was added in 1912. Two years later, in 1914, a spire was built and the next year a bell was imported from New York. The organ was installed as a part of the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1931. As well, numerous stained-glass windows have been donated in memory of various individuals. The older windows were imported from England where they were made by James Winston and Sons. The later windows added in 1961 were created by Yvonne Williams and Jeane McNichols of Toronto. There have also been numerous modernizations, such as lighting, and renovations arising out of Vatican II which brought many changes to the Roman Catholic worship services.
The 19 m (62-foot) steeple was removed in the spring of 1997, as deterioration caused it to be a danger to the public. St. Patrick’s congregation decided to raise the $350,000 it would cost to replace the spire. As the original was unusable, an exact replica was ordered from Munn’s fabrication company in Utah. On November 27, 1997, the 11,500 pound replica steeple was hoisted into place.
In the fall of 1997 the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador declared St. Patrick’s Church a Registered Heritage Structure.
History of our Patron Saint, St. Patrick
Patrick isn’t really a Saint with a capital S, having never been officially canonized by Rome. And Patrick couldn’t have driven the snakes out of Ireland because there were never any snakes there to begin with. He wasn’t even the first evangelist to Ireland (Palladius had been sent in 431,about five years before Patrick went). Patrick isn’t even Irish. He’s from what’s now Dumbarton, Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow).
Patrick was 16 years old in about the year 405, when he was captured in a raid and became a slave in what was still radically pagan Ireland. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a teenager. Even though his grandfather had been a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick “knew not the true God.” But forced to tend his master’s sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage mainly in prayer. He escaped at the suggestion of a dream and returned home.
Patrick was in his mid-40s when he returned to Ireland. Palladius had not been very successful in his mission, and the returning former slave replaced him. Intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain), Patrick’s strategy was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. Reportedly, Milchu was one of his earliest converts.
Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe’s Christian centers. This, of course, was very important to fifth-century Christians, for whom Ireland was one of the “ends of the earth.”
History of St. Patrick’s Convent
On 10th January 1856, four Presentation Sisters came from the Community at Cathedral Square in St. John’s to establish a Convent at Riverhead, in the West End of St John’s. Sr Mary Clare Waldron was appointed Superior. The next day, father Kieran Walsh celebrated Mass in the Convent Chapel. This house was cold and damp so in March 1880 the Foundation Stone was laid for a new building to better serve the needs of the Sisters and their charges. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 8, 1882, Bishop Thomas Joseph Power solemnly blessed the new St Patrick’s Convent and celebrated the first Mass in its Chapel.
In the beginning, the Sisters taught both boys and girls in their school. However, St Patrick’s eventually became an all girls’ school. The enrolment increased steadily and, 65 years after the Sisters opened their first school, a new school was opened. In 1921 a new St Patrick’s Convent School, erected as a Memorial to the men of the Parish who died in WWI, opened on Deanery Avenue. By the 1950s, it was realized that the current buildings were unable to adequately meet increasing educational needs. On 2nd October 1953, His Grace Most Reverend Patrick James Skinner blessed the cornerstone of the new St Patrick’s School on Patrick St. On 4th January 1954 Archbishop Skinner celebrated Mass on the main corridor of the new school and blessed the building.
St Patrick’s Convent School closed its doors for the last time in 1999. The building is now a private school. (Lakecrest)
The Presentation Sisters remained a presence in St Patrick’s Parish which was opened in 1882 and remains their home until 2016.
(Source: Larry Dohey, Manager of Collections and Projects, The Rooms Provincial Archives)
St. Patrick’s Convent/School Closing – Sept 11, 2016
MESSAGE OF APPRECIATION IN THANKSGIVING FOR PRESENTATION SISTERS ON THEIR COMPLETION OF 160 YEARS OF MINISTRY IN ST. PATRICK’S PARISH
Truly, this is a bittersweet occasion. While we are celebrating the incredible impact the Presentation Sisters had on so many of us, we are also sad because after 160 years they will no longer have a presence at St. Patrick’s Convent.
I am part of four generations who were taught by the Nuns, my mother, my sisters and I, my daughters, and my grandson all attended St. Patrick’s School, as did so many other family members in the West End. I’d like to share some of my experiences at school back in the early 40’s and 50’s.
We were very fortunate that Nano Nagle was a brave woman of faith who came here in 1883 with four nuns to establish schools in Newfoundland, and the rest is history. My generation was the last pupils to attend the Deanery Avenue School. Many of you will remember some of our teachers: Mother Francis, Mother John, Sister Agatha, and Sister Camilla. As children it seemed to us that the nuns knew everything; they were wonderful teachers, our spelling and writing had to be perfect and who will ever forget learning the “Time Tables”.
All of those skills stayed with us for our lifetime. We had all the core subjects and I even remember we were taught Latin for one year. Religion played a big part in our education, daily prayers, Sunday Mass, and you knew on Monday you would be questioned on the sermon. We were taught to respect ourselves and others and that God saw everything we did.
The Nuns were gifted in so many ways. They taught us how to knit, crochet, and do fancy work. It seems there was nothing they couldn’t do, and teach us to do. Perhaps one of their greatest contributions was in the field of music.
St. Patrick’s was so well known for its wonderful school choirs under the direction of Sr. Brendan, and the choir won so many awards and accolades over the years. Many students took their first piano and theory lesson in St. Patrick’s convent. The love of music wasnurtured in so many students under the careful instruction of those wonderful Nuns.
I think we all realize how fortunate we were to get such a good education. While we may not have had all the options available to students today, we were enriched by the wonderful skills that were taught to us.
The Patrick Street School opened in 1954 and the nuns continued their work in education. Later things changed and with the end of denominational education, St. Patrick’s School closed in 1996. The sisters remained at the Convent and focused on other ministries; helping the sick, the needy, doing pastoral work and opening the Lantern and the Gathering Place.
The congregation is aging and some difficult decisions had to be made for the future, one of which was the closure of our Convent.
So, while we are sad that our sisters will not have a presence at St. Patrick’s, we are blessed and grateful for the wonderful years they were with us and the profound impact they had on so many lives. We will be forever grateful to them.
In closing, on behalf of St. Patrick’s Parish Family, I wish them well as another door in ministry opens for them. I want them to know they will be warmly welcomed back to visit at any time. Finally, I invite all of you to join us in the Parish Room for a reception to say good-bye personally.
Mary Skinner – Parish Council Representative
Eucharistic Liturgy of Thanksgiving Closing of St. Patrick’s Convent St. John’s, NL Canada September 11, 2016
Address by Sister Betty Rae Lee, NL Provincial Leader
We gather here today to celebrate the story of the relationship between the people of St. Patrick’s Parish and the Presentation Sisters for the past one hundred and sixty years. We honor the weaving of our lives together as a small, but also significant part of God’s unfolding dream and we express our deep gratitude to God and to each other for the blessings we have known throughout the years.
The Presentation Story, through which we are connected, began in the mind of God through the dream of a compassionate and visionary woman, Nano Nagle, our Foundress. Known as the “Lady of the Lantern” in Cork, she did all she could to alleviate the sufferings of Ireland’s poor in the 18th century.
Our Presentation Newfoundland and Labrador story began in 1833 when four brave women from Galway, Ireland, Mary Bernard Kirwin, Xavier Mullowney, Magdalen O’Shaughnessy, and Xaverius Lynch arrived in St. John’s on September 21st of that year after a 25 day journey across the rough Atlantic seas.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our faith-filled ancestors and St. Patrick’s Parish plays an important part in our Irish/Newfoundland story. Can you imagine that this treasured booklet is 160 years old? It records our Presentation beginnings here at St. Patrick’s and I read, “On the 10th of January 1856 Sister Mary Clare Waldren, Sister Mary Ignatius Quinlan, Sister Mary Rose Mullally and Sister Mary Regis Halpin, Novice, came from the Motherhouse to establish a house of their Order at Riverhead, in this town, under the authority of the Right Reverend Dr. Mullock, Bishop of St. John’s.” God bless our noble pioneers.
The Annals further reveal the hardships under which the Sisters lived and, no doubt, the people of Riverhead were suffering much at that time also. So many young Sisters died because of the “provisional dwelling” in which they lived which was described as “miserable, cold, damp and uncomfortable”. There are many touching narratives of the faith and acceptance of these brave women. Of one such
Sister, Sister M. Agnes Kitchen who died at 36, it was written, “Her resignation to the Divine Will was admirable and her heroic patience edified all. She offered her life as a sacrifice to her Heavenly Spouse and calmly breathed her last sigh. Her life was holy. Her death tranquil.”
Since these beginnings in 1856, 205 Sisters served at St. Patrick’s and over the years they shared their gifts and leadership as they ministered among you in the school and parish. Since most of our time here was connected with the young through the teaching ministry, these memories are most treasured. It is interesting to note that we have a list in our Archives naming every teacher who taught at St. Patrick’s from 1921-1999.
So many of these Sisters who taught at St. Patrick’s have since returned home to God but their memory remains in this place as does the energy of many of your relatives who were so good to them. Some women who lived and ministered among you have left our community to continue to live their Christian call in a different manner. Many others now live in other parts of our province and beyond and they carry with them the memories of their time among you. We cannot forget to acknowledge the women from this parish who, because of the faith, inspiration and encouragement of home and church community became members of our congregation. We acknowledged our beginning with four Sisters. Now we recognize the last community to reside at St. Patrick’s: Sisters Dorothy Baird, Dorothy Corrigan, Marie Furey, Mary Molloy, Frances Pennell and Patricia Whittle. Sisters Marie and Patricia will remain until the building is closed at the end of October this year. Some of you may not know the Sisters who are present in our Church today here today, who served in this parish so I would ask them to stand now. Hopefully some of you can get re-acquainted during the reception afterwards.
As we hold tenderly the lives of these 205 women in a treasured narrative, our hearts are grateful indeed.
In reflecting on the meaning of our common story within home, school and parish over these 160 years, we acknowledge the moments of joy in wonderful connections and the moments of sadness because of misunderstandings and hurts. And that is really the whole of life, the shadow and the sun, the darkness and the light of our lives, both calling out for reconciliation and celebration.
In God’s universal dream for all creation we were drawn together for a time. There is indeed pain for all of us in seeing the Convent close, yet we trust that the God
who has led us to this point will continue to be faithful to creating and nurturing life through the next use of this building.
We cannot announce today how the Convent will be used because an agreement for the use of the building, while in process, has not yet been finalized. Hopefully, by the end of October we will be in a position to make an announcement relative to the future of this wonderful and historic building. A new story is waiting to be told in this place.
Before concluding, I would like to say a special thank you to Archbishop Currie, Father Dohey, and to all of you who prepared for and participated in this beautiful Liturgy today and to all of you who have come to share this moment with us. This is a memory we will treasure. In our name I express deep appreciation to you, Mary Skinner, for your kind words of gratitude and we, in turn, extend a heartfelt thank you to the parishioners for your kindness, generosity and support over the years. You have allowed us to share in your lives and you have helped shape our congregational story.
So now the time has come for us to leave this sacred place
Strong in this holy company of living faith.
May you know that absence is full of tender presence
and that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.
I invite the Sisters to stand and raise their hands over you as I pray a blessing from all our Presentation Sisters:
We pray a blessing on you as you journey onward from this moment. As you meet the poor, the sad, the stranger, may you see the face of Christ. May you remember that our love and appreciation for you are etched on our hearts in a bond that unites us forever. And may the power of God’s presence bless us all at this moment of leave taking.
Closing of St. Patrick’s Convent