Tag Archives: Sisters of Mercy

A woman who cared

Archival Moment

March 25, 1843

Typhus Epidemic

Typhus Epidemic

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

Newfoundland Politicians, Bishops and Cardinals – International Connections


May 4, 1864

Sketch of Philip Little, published in Centenary Volume, Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) 1906.

On this day May 4, 1864 Judge Philip F.Little of St. John’s was married (Mary Jane Holdright) from a wealthy Anglo – Irish family at Dublin, Ireland by Cardinal Paul Cullen.

He became Newfoundland’s first Premier (Prime Minister)  in 1855. He remained in office until 1858. In that time, he managed to secure Newfoundland’s autonomy, in making sure Newfoundland had a say over its own destiny. He resigned in 1858 saying “I go now before the milk of human kindness goes sour for me”.

Soon after his marriage, Little moved to Ireland permanently. He lived the rest of his life in Ireland, near the farms of relatives; managing properties owned by his wife’s family as well as those he acquired himself. He was prominent as a lawyer and became active in the Irish Home Rule movement.

In 1883 the Sisters of Mercy in Newfoundland  purchased Littledale, the former estate of Philip Francis Little, on Waterford Bridge Road, St. John’s. At that time the Sisters converted the three-storey house and with the addition of a classroom and dormitory, the school opened as St. Bride’s (College) Academy on August 20, 1884 as a Catholic girls’ boarding school run by them.

Little died at the age of 73 in 1897 in Ireland.

Having the very busy Cardinal Archbishop Paul Cullen perform the marriage was no small feat and was no doubt arranged by Bishop John Thomas Mullock, a friend of Cardinal Cullen’s. Cullen was the first Irish Cardinal in the church. He is best known for his crafting of the formula for papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council. He was considered one of the most influential Roman Catholics in the world.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division – MG 212 –consists of microfilmed records relating to the political and legal career of Philip F. Little during 1840-1890.  The collection is composed of correspondence, letters of introduction, addresses, certificates and commissions.