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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Mother M. Bernard Kirwan Memorial is located in Port Kirwan, NL. This is the burial site of Mother M. Bernard Kirwan and Sister M. Magdalen O’Neill. The site is adjacent to the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and looks out over the waters off Port Kirwan. The designation includes the memorial, a stone wall and the area enclosed by the fence.
The Mother M. Bernard Kirwan Memorial has been designated a municipal heritage site by the Town of Port Kirwan due to its historic, cultural and aesthetic values.
The historical value of the Mother M. Bernard Kirwan Memorial lies in its association with Mother Kirwan and the founding of the Presentation Order in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1833, Sister Mary Bernard Kirwan was among four nuns of the Order of the Presentation of Our Blessed Lady in Galway, Ireland to accept Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming’s invitation to establish a Presentation convent in St. John’s. This was the first English-speaking convent in what would become Canada. From modest beginnings, the Presentation sisters would eventually see to the educational needs of generations of young Newfoundlanders.
Born Julia Kirwan in 1797 and trained in education, business, music, needlework, lace making and French, Sister Kirwan was named first mother superior of the newly formed convent. Twenty years later, in 1853, Mother Kirwan and four other nuns started a convent and school in Admiral’s Cove, later renamed Port Kirwan in her honour. Named mother superior of the convent in Admirals Cove on June 23, 1856, Mother Kirwan died eights month later on February 27, 1857. According to the annals of Admiral’s Cove convent, “she was remarkable for a peculiar sweetness of disposition, exalted in 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.”
The Mother M. Bernard Kirwan Memorial has cultural value because of its importance to the community’s collective identity. In 1960 the name of the community was changed to Port Kirwan in honour of Mother M. Bernard Kirwan. That community members held her in such esteem over a century after her death, speaks to the impression she made upon community residents. The name Port Kirwan serves as a lasting memorial to her mission not only in this community but in Newfoundland in general. Interred with Mother Kirwan is Sister M. Magdalen O’Neill, a native of the community. She was one of the first local women to enter religious service and was followed by many more Southern Shore women who became nuns.
The Mother M. Bernard Kirwan Memorial has aesthetic value due to its environmental setting. From the site there is an unobstructed view of the waters off Port Kirwan. The burial site itself was cut out at the foot of a hill and is located amongst a cluster of mature coniferous trees that create a natural canopy. A wall constructed of cut stone marks the back and one side of the memorial. The original white marble memorial stone was replaced in the 1980s with a brown marble memorial stone and two brown marble headstones. The boarder wall surrounding the burial plot is grey marble with a brown marble shelf. A cross motif made of brick has been created along the walkway leading from the entrance to the burial plot. Benches are located at the back and sides of the memorial. Nestled among the trees in the shade of the hill, the setting evokes a fitting sense of serenity.
Source: Town of Port Kirwan Regular Council Meeting February 27, 2007
All those elements which represent the historic, cultural and aesthetic values of the site, including:
-memorial stone describing historical associations with Mother Kirwan and Presentation Order;
-memorial stones in memory of Mother Kirwan and Sister O’Neill;
-cut stone fence on back and right side of burial site;
-mature trees surrounding burial site;
-present size, style, location and orientation of memorial stones;
-present size, style, location and orientation of memorial boarder wall;
-present size, location and orientation of memorial site, and;
-unobstructed view and open space in front of memorial site.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Municipal Heritage Building, Structure or Land
Theme - Category and Type
- Building Social and Community Life
- Religious Institutions
Function - Category and Type
- Religion, Ritual and Funeral
- Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
1 Springdale Street
St. John's, NL
Cross-Reference to Collection