Wednesday 27 February 2013


Today, 27th February, marks the 156th anniversary of the death of Mother Mary Bernard Kirwan.  Mother Bernard Kirwan P B V M, religious, pioneer, and educator, is an important figure in the history of Newfoundland.  We who have had the great privilege of being educated by the Presentation Sisters are especially indebted to Mother Bernard!

Mother Mary Bernard Kirwan

According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Julia Kirwan, daughter of James and Ann Kirwan, was born in Galway in 1797.  In 1823, Julia entered the Presentation Convent, Galway.  Known in religion as Sister Mary Bernard, she took her vows there in 1829. 

In 1833 Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming visited the Presentation Convent in Galway in the hope of recruiting Sisters to teach in Newfoundland.  The tremendous work that the Presentation Sisters have done in Newfoundland over the years is proof that to say Bishop Fleming was ‘successful’ would be an understatement!   Four Nuns, including Sister Mary Bernard, volunteered to accompany the Bishop.  Sister Bernard was appointed Superior of the new foundation in St John’s, the first Presentation Convent outside of Ireland.  Thus Mother Mary Bernard Kirwan would become not only the founder of the Presentation Congregation in Newfoundland, but the founder of the Presentation Congregation in the whole of North America.

The group left Ireland on 11th August 1833 and arrived in St John’s on the feast of St Matthew, 21st September, 1833.  Despite misfortune and setbacks, the Presentation Order thrived and soon expanded to other parts of Newfoundland.  In September 1853, with Convents already established in Harbour Grace, Carbonear and Harbour Main, a Convent was founded at Admiral’s Cove, Fermeuse, on the Southern Shore of the Avalon Peninsula.  Mother Bernard was appointed Superior of this latest foundation.  It was in Fermeuse, on 27th February 1857, that Mother Mary Bernard Kirwan passed away.  It was said of her that “She was remarkable for a peculiar sweetness of disposition, exalted piety, unbounded charity, and a burning zeal for the glory of God and the good of her neighbour.  Her death was like her life, most holy.”  

Mother Bernard Kirwan was interred in Admiral’s Cove, the little Cove to which she would one day give her name.  Admiral’s Cove was named after the English Fishing Admirals who frequented the Harbour from the1700s.  In 1960 the name was officially changed to Port Kirwan, in honour of Mother Bernard Kirwan.  In this pretty little Cove, Mother Bernard’s name is revered and her memorial is lovingly tended.  Sr Mary Magdalen O’Neill, who died at Fermeuse on 27th October 1871, is also commemorated at this site.

This Stone has since been replaced
 I am greatly indebted to a most wonderful man, my friend Ed O’Neill.  Ed O’Neill, a devoted son of Admiral’s Cove/Port Kirwan, is an historian, photographer, chronicler, preserver and lover of all things ‘Fermeuse’.   Ed has come upon a very unusual piece of our history which he generously shares with us here. 

Ed says, “Here are a couple of photographs of Mother Bernard Kirwan’s walking stick.”  He continues; “Mother Kirwan lived in Port Kirwan from 1853 to 1857 when she passed away.  She must have had knee-joint problems and required the use of a cane.  The cane was made by a Mr Walsh from Riverhead, Fermeuse, a well-known carpenter.  I borrowed it from one of his great-grandchildren who still have it in their possession.”
Mother Bernard's Walking Stick
Being a history buff, I am delighted with this bit of information and with the accompanying photographs.  Thank you so much, Ed.  Your kindness is greatly appreciated.

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