March 25, 1843
Maria Nugent, a native of Waterford, Ireland, made her profession of vows on March 25th, 1843 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the first Sister of Mercy professed outside the British Isles.
The Sisters of Mercy are a religious order of women that were involved primarily in health care and teaching. The order was established in Dublin, Ireland in 1831. The first convent of these Irish women was established in Newfoundland in 1842.
Maria Nugent (in the convent she was known as Sister Mary Joseph) was the sister of reform politician John Nugent. She was an accomplished author and musician and was comfortable in a number of languages including Greek, Latin, French and Italian.
In June 1847, a severe epidemic of typhus broke out in St. John’s. All the schools were closed as a preventative measure. Conditions in the St. John’s Hospital were deplorable, with crowded, inadequate facilities and unskilled nursing staff. Rather than follow the strict quarantine regulations established during the cholera epidemic some 15 years earlier Sister Nugent insisted on being with the sick and dying. She walked fearlessly into this hotbed of contagion. Every day she walked two miles back and forth to the hospital where she spent the day, easing the discomfort and pain of the victims, and assisting the dying.
It was almost inevitable that the frail Sister Mary Joseph Nugent would not be strong enough to withstand the infection. She contracted the disease and for two weeks she lay dying at Mercy Convent. On June 17, 1847, Sister Nugent died, she was buried in the place reserved for typhus victims.
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Provincial Archives: GN 2.17. A series of letters written by James Crowdy, colonial secretary, relating to the response of the Newfoundland government to the outbreak of Asiatic cholera in 1832-1833. The letters focus on the preventive measures endorsed by government, including the proclamation and enforcement of quarantine regulations on incoming vessels, crew and passengers; activities and termination of the boards of health in St. John’s and in the outports; and the financial costs of the preventive measures. The volumes also include instructions related to the prevention of a cholera outbreak on the Labrador coast.
Recommended Reading: Kathrine E. Bellamy rsm. wrote the definitive history of the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland. Weavers of the Tapestry, published by Flanker Press, St. John’s 2006.
Recommended Website: The Sisters of Mercy in Newfoundland: http://www.sistersofmercynf.org/index.cfm