BY PAUL HERRIDGE
The Southern Gazette
Another era has come and gone in Marystown.
The Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland’s Holy Name of Mary Convent has closed its doors, and is presently in the process of being sold.
The Order has operated a convent in Marystown since it first opened Sept. 4, 1927, just a couple weeks after four sisters arrived via the ‘S.S. Portia’ at the request of Father J.W. McGettigan. Within a few days, they had begun teaching in classrooms at the Parish Hall.
Over the 84 years, 88 sisters in all have served in the community, some returning for the second or third time.
Sister Theresa March, 76, is the last to remain and has moved to a small house in the town.
“I wanted to stay on because I enjoy my work here, and the people are so nice and helpful.”
The Corner Brook native has served in Marystown for more than two decades on three separate occasions.
The first time in 1969 was just six years after the current convent had been built on the same property as the original, which sits adjacent to Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church on Ville Marie Drive.
“It was right there in that corner of the garden. They built this one while the sisters lived in the old place.”
According to church records, the original convent was sold to Patrick Canning, who moved the building to another area of town, using it first as a bank and then later for storage for several years.
“I had 94 pupils in Kindergarten that year – half in the morning, half in the afternoon, of course.”
After two years, Sister Theresa was called back to St. John’s, only to return again in 1978 as Principal of Holy Name of Mary Primary School – which stood next to the convent on what was then church-owned land, and is currently the site of a new housing development, until 1985.
In 1999, the last two sisters left the educational system and moved on, leaving Sister Margaret Pittman, a Marystown native. Sister Theresa’s arrival again that year brought the total to two. Two more sisters joined them in 2003 and it remained that way until this year.
By her third stint, Sister Theresa, who was then retired herself, helped with parish work and pastoral care at the Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre, which the sisters have organized for 21 years.
“I wanted to stay on because I enjoy my work here, and the people are so nice and helpful.” - – Sister Theresa March
A special celebration at the church attended by 14 sisters was held to mark the closing of the convent Sept. 12.
Sister Theresa said the closure has made her nostalgic and acknowledged the convent holds many happy memories.
“It’s sad to see it go but you have to face reality. That’s today. We don’t have sisters coming in anymore, girls coming in.
“Our numbers are down and our sisters are getting older. We have one sister who is 101, and she was here at one time, Sister Thomasina.”
Meanwhile, the nearly 50-year-old, three-storey building, which has 10 upstairs bedrooms, is in good shape. There have been a couple offers so far, one from a group in particular who want to use it for women.
Sister Theresa said it would be a fitting transition and one the Sisters of Mercy would be thrilled to see happen.
“That’s one of our closest ministries that we do. Our founders really found the Order to look after the women of Ireland.”