From an unpublished manuscript in our archives. Author unknown.
We take up our pen in the year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty-three in the reign of His Holiness Pope John XXIII. Our style is not free and flowing like that of literary men. Because our hands cannot form fine words, the following chronicle of our pioneer days is written in chronological style.
Our history in wales commences with the year 1939, when Mother Brigid and Mother Stanislaus arrived in this lovely mountainous country. These religious came from India to Ireland in search of vocations for their mission in the Far East. War broke out. The Papal-Nuncio in Dublin suggested that they begin a new mission field in Wales. Both Mothers realised the impossibility of returning to their own mission, and Divine Providence showed them the possibility of beginning a new apostolate in the British Isles.
Hoping to find a place to settle in North Wales in a little place called Pwllheli, they lived for a time with the Sisters of Mercy in Bangor, a short distance from Caernarvon. Being unsuccessful in their search, they turned to South Wales, where in 1939 they received hospitality with the Daughters of the Holy Ghose in Abergavenny.
Mother Brigid and Mother Stanislaus then presented themselves to the Archbishop in Cardiff, who encouraged them with the happy news of the existence in Crickhowell of an ardent and zealous apostle of the Divine Master. This apostle, Miss Lewis, had erected a Catholic Church in Crickhowell in 1935 for a small number of Catholics living in this small town. As if assuring the Religious of their future success, this Church was named after the Patron of our dear Congregation. They, too were Sisters of St Joseph, and surely Saint Joseph was guiding their footsteps. As the parish had no resident priest, the spiritual needs of the people were attended to by a Benedictine in the person of Don Vincent Fogarty, who came week-ends from Belmont.
The first resident religious in Crickhowell were the Sisters of St Joseph, and their first residence was “The Haven”, a small house across the street from the present Convent of St Joseph. Later, Miss Lewis invited the Sisters to take up their residence in her own home attached to the Church, while she went to live in Abergavenny.
After the outbreak of the war in 1939 and the arrival of refugees and army personnel, it became necessary to have a resident priest in Crickhowell. This is how it happened that Father Wedlake became the first resident priest here since the Reformation.
Throughout the war, God’s Little Family of St Joseph with the aid of Fr Wedlake and Miss Lewis worked zealously and quietly for the honour and glory of God and the good of souls. The Sisters were supported in the beginning by a small sum of money sent from India by Mother Patricia, a former companion of Mothers Brigid and Stanislaus. Mother Patricia conducted a small boarding school for the daughters of the British officers stationed there. When India gained its independence, the school closed and the payment to Crickhowell stopped. The sum sent was insufficient to support the community and the Sisters took care of the laundry for nearby hotels.
The Sisters of St Joseph of Anncey in Newport were also very helpful to Mother Stanislaus.
Young girls from Ireland came to ask admittance. The first Sister to be invested in the Holy Habit received the name Sister Mary Winafride. We shall hear more about Sister Mary Winafride when we write the Annals for our foundation at Wrexham, North Wales.
In the meantime our venerable Mothers from India were desirous of becoming part of another branch of the Congregation of St Joseph as their own particular community was small in numbers. They wished to amalgamate with a larger branch of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph. While travelling in Ireland, they fortunately met a Sister of the Chambery branch of this Congregation to whom Mother Brigid and Mother Stanislaus expressed their desire. Sister referred them to our Superior General, Reverend Mother Francis of the Sacred Heart. Plans for the amalgamation materialised in 1947.
In 1946, the establishment of a novitiate was compulsory. One was eventually opened at the farther end of Crickhowell and was placed under the patronage of Saint Michael. It is interesting to note that the Sisters went to investigate this building on the feast of Saint Michael and made arrangements for its purchase that same day. This building belonged to a Mr Williams, and it had previously been used for billeting soldiers during the war.
Mother Patricia, who had come from India in June 1946, became the first Superior of the newly-acquired novitiate, and Mother Brigid became the first Mistress of Novices. Mother Stanislaus remained at Saint Joseph’s as Superior. As a means of support, they began caring for elderly English ladies.
The first Mass in the new Novitiate was celebrated by Reverend Father McLaughlin, who became the first chaplain. On November 17, 1946 the community numbered seventeen. The first Ceremony of Clothing took place on December 8th of the same year, and Sister Mary Ethelreda and Sister Mary Dorothy received the Holy Habit. The retreat previous to this ceremony was given by a Redemptorist, Reverend Father Fuerry. Father also presided at the Ceremony of Clothing.
In the autumn of 1947, Mother Catherine Mary was sent from our American province to become Mistress of Novices. Mother Patricia returned to India in December of the same year, taking six of the Novices back with her. Mother Brigid became Superior of Saint Michael’s. It was Mother Brigid’s two nephews, who were priests in England, who actually supported the Novitiate in its early days. They also gave the lovely statue of Our Lady that is placed on the landing on the flight of stairs leading from chapel hall to the second floor.
There was always a friendly bond between the two communities in Crickhowell, and the novitiate supplied Sisters for the care of the elderly ladies at Saint Joseph’s. From the time of the first resident pastor in Saint Joseph’s, the Parish has been favoured with the continual residence of zealous pastors. In 1947, Father Greene was named pastor, and was followed shortly by Father Noonan. His arrival coincided with the arrival of Mother Herman Joseph, who was sent to Wales from Rome where she was acting as Delegate for the American province. Mother became Superior at Saint Joseph’s Convent, replacing Mother Stanislaus who returned to India with Mother Brigid in January 1950.
Mother Herman Joseph was sent to Crickhowell by Reverend Mother General to arrange for the sale of Saint Michael’s which had become a financial problem. The chaplain, Father Graham was of the opinion that the Novitiate should continue to function, so he sent up many a saintly petition that God’s Preventive and Permissive Will be done. His petition was granted and Saint Michael’s continues to function.
Mother Herman Joseph remained at Saint Michael’s for a few weeks and was then sent to Saint Joseph’s as superior. For one year she lovingly dedicated herself to the motherly care of the Sisters and the elderly English ladies confided to her care. The community consisted of Sisters Mary Ethelreda, Mary Elizabeth and Mary Etienne. Later Sister Mary Rita joined the community. She was changed from Warwick. These Sisters renewed their first Vows during Mother’s term as superior. Sister Alphonsus’ Reception took place the same year at Saint Michael’s.
Word was received from America that Mother Herman Joseph was chosen Provincial of the American Province. Mother was replaced at Saint Joseph’s by Mother Florentine who also came from America.
In September of the following year, Mother Bertha came from America to replace Mother Catherine Mary as Superior and Mistress of Novices. Mother Catherine Mary did her utmost to improve conditions at Saint Michael’s. There was much cleaning to be done, and many improvements to be made. One can realise what the condition of the building must have been after being used as a billeting place for soldiers. We owe a prayerful gesture of gratitude to Mother for the zeal and energy with which she did her share in making the Novitiate a more suitable place to live in.
Mother Bertha immediately continued the good work started by her predecessor and devoted herself whole-heartedly to the task assigned her by her Superiors. Mother loved her Novices and tried to instil into their hearts the many lessons she learned from our saintly Mistress of Novices in Parkville – our beloved Mother Ida of the Cross. The vegetable gardens and the lawns around the Novitiate began to take on a “new look”. After seven years of faithful service Mother Bertha was called back to America and was replaced by Mother Dorothy.
In the meantime, Mother Mary de Passi, who replaced Mother Herman Joseph as the American Delegate in Rome, was desirous, with the approval of Mother Reverend General, to begin a foundation in Ireland. In July 1951 Mother came to Dublin and other parts of Ireland seeking permission and a suitable place to begin this new venture. Mother was also mindful of the need of vocations and she visited several places in Southern Ireland for suitable prospects. These future postulants would go to Crickhowell for their novitiate training.
Mother invoked the Holy Spirit for light and guidance and in spite of many obstacles she was successful in making two foundations in the beautiful Emerald Isle. The former residence of Daniel O’Connell in Kerry was proposed to Mother as a suitable place for a foundation by the Bishop of Kerry. As this project was too important an undertaking to be dealt with in a hurried manner, Mother took time and prayed for guidance in settling this matter.
The Archbishop of Dublin presented another project to be considered. His lordship called Mother’s attention to “Edenmore”, a lovely estate in Raheny, part of the eastern section of Dublin. This location was the place finally decided as the first possible foundation. With the help of his Lordship Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin, the Congregation was able to purchase “Edenmore” in June 1956. His Grace suggested that the Sisters open a Nursing Home on the property.
Once again, Reverend Mother General looked to the American province for help in supplying Sisters for this new project. Mother Alice Mary, a member of the staff at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, was the one chosen to open the Nursing Home. She arrived in Ireland on July 8th, 1957 and shortly afterwards moved to the Gate lodge on the property at Raheny where she and Mother de Passi awaited the arrival of two more Sister nurses – Sister Mary Esther from Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury and Sister Teresa Agnes from Saint Francis Hospital. Both co-foundresses arrived by boat on November 2nd, 1957.
In the meantime another opportunity presented itself unsought. Archbishop McQuaid asked Mother Mary de Passi for four Sisters to oversee the work of the Domestic Department of Rockwell College, which belonged to the Holy Ghost Fathers. It was imperative that one of these be a nurse to take charge of the boys’ infirmary. Another one of the hospitals in Connecticut was asked to make the sacrifice of one of their staff, and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Stamford responded to the call and sent Mother Emerita. Mother became the superior and nurse, being assisted by three of our Sisters who had been trained at our Novitiate in Crickhowell. These were Sister Mary Winafride, Sister Mary Elizabeth and Sister Marie Bernadette.
It was here in Rockwell that Mother Mary de Passi and Mother Alice Mary spent a short time before going to Raheny. Sisters Mary Esther and Teresa Agnes also spent several days in this beautiful spot. Mother Mary de Passi, satisfied at seeing the little community of three together, left for Rome.
On March 19th, 1958, feast of St Joseph, the Archbishop blessed the Sisters’ quarters on the third floor of the Nursing Home and the Sisters moved in shortly after. May 1st, feast of St Joseph the Worker, was the date set for the final blessing and formal opening of St Joseph’s Nursing Home. The Archbishop, happy as were the Sisters at the completion of St Joseph’s, remained for a long time after the services were over. On leaving he remarked “You Sisters have made a name for yourselves today”. Saint Joseph had, indeed, taken care of the venture from the beginning, guiding the work on each step of the way. Under his special protection everyone concerned was confident that a great mission of mercy, with far-flung possibilities was open before them.
All God’s work is marked with a cross. It is a “sine qua non” of blessedness. Saint Joseph’s Nursing Home grew slowly, but successfully. Patients love the Sisters and are loud in their praise of the new hospital. Of the eight Sisters in the Community, five are registered nurses, including the three Americans who are also technicians in specialised fields. All the Sisters were happy and busy in their new field of love and labour. Then in March 1959 the blow struck. God asked the sacrifice of the life of one of the foundresses, Sister Mary Esther from St Mary’s Hospital, Waterbury, Connecticut, America. Sister fell ill with pneumonia and never recovered. The Capuchin Fathers from their nearby monastery were a source of comfort and strength to Sister and her Community. Sister Mary Esther is laid to rest in the Catholic cemetery in Howth, just outside Dublin. Mother Lucy, who was Superior in Warwick, died two years later and was buried next to Sister. We shall hear more about Mother Lucy later when we record the annals of this foundation in England. May their souls rest in peace.