SISTER MARY ROSE NILAND O.P. 1860-1947
Foundress of the “Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena of Newcastle,
Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa”
“Keep always a bright, cheerful heart.
Look at each thing with rose coloured glasses.
See God in all and then take forward strides.
Don’t mind the weight of the cross.
Heaven and the eternal vision of God are at the end of the journey.
So now, courage, forward.
Take the daily ups and downs and be very cheerful
God is waiting for us.”
(1928, “St. Dominic’s Academy”, Newcastle,South Africa)
The above words – an excerpt from a letter to her Sisters, epitomise the type of person Sister Rose Niland was. She was a woman of faith, deep conviction and courage. Her life was based on the reality of a personal God of love who is always reaching out to those who respond to His call of love.
Who was Sister Rose Niland?
Agnes Niland was born at Cape Beaufort, in Cape Province on July 21st, 1860. Her father Thomas had fled from Ireland in the days of penal persecution and made his home in the Cape Colony, where he acquired very extensive property. Her mother, Mary Scmidt, was of Huguenot origin, and Sister Rose—the fourth of nine children, six boys and three girls seems to have inherited from her parents what was best in the national traits of both. Little has been recorded of her early childhood and youth. She was educated by the Cabra Dominican Sisters at “Holy Rosary Convent”, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. She learned to love the children of St Dominic and her attraction to the Order grew with the years.
In August 1880, a few days after her twentieth birthday, Agnes entered the “Convent of the Sacred Heart”, Kingwilliamstown, as a postulant. On the 19th of January 1881 she received the Dominican habit and was given the name Sister Mary Rose.
For the first seven years after her Profession, in 1882, Sister Rose taught music and art lessons in school and, for a short time, assisted with the formation of the novices. She spent a short time teaching at the first branch at East London in the Eastern Cape. In 1889 she was sent to a new house opened at Potchefstroom – a town in the area known as the Transvaal. When the Sisters were invited to establish a school and a hospital in Klerksdorp, a neighbouring town, Sister Rose was sent to take charge of this venture.
The Convent at Oakford, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, founded from Kingwilliamstown in July 1889, became independent of Kingwilliamstown in February 1890. Sister Mary Rose joined that community. In 1891 a new foundation, from the Oakford community, was made in Newcastle, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Sister Rose was sent to that community where she was appointed Superior. Newcastle, as a coalmining area, did not develop. Pupils did not attend the newly built school.
Community leadership, in Oakford, made the decision to withdraw the Sisters from Newcastle. However, the Bishop (under whose jurisdiction the Sisters lived and worked) was reluctant to allow the Sisters to return to Oakford. The result was that a decision was made that any of the Sisters who wished to return to Oakford could do so. Sister Rose would be released from Oakford and she, with five Sisters who chose to remain in Newcastle with her, would be a founding community of what would become a new Congregation. This marked the beginning of the “Congregation of Saint Catherine of Siena of Newcastle, Kwa-Zulu Natal”.
In the years that followed Sister Rose lost no time in ensuring the growth of the new Congregation. She travelled to Europe, England and Ireland. Apart from questing for candidates for her Congregation, she visited Dominican communities in England, Ireland and Germany to imbibe as much as she could of the Dominican spirit. She ensured that her Congregation was affiliated to the Dominican Order and, later, was placed under the “Sacred Congregation of Religious” in Rome.
Mother Rose was in her eighty-second year at the time of her Diamond Jubilee 25th January 1942. She lived through the war years deprived of many comforts, torn with anxiety for her children and the schools, yet always resigned to God’s will.
At the General Chapter of the Congregation in January 1947. Mother Bruno O’Grady was elected Superior General, and Mother Rose laid down the burden of an office she had held for close on fifty years. She had worn herself out in the service of God and her neighbour; she saw the work she had inaugurated under the guiding hand of Providence grow and flourish. Her sisters were labouring in many schools; in far-away South Africa; in the districts of the Transvaal; in the farming areas of the Northern Transvaal and of Natal; and nearer home in the London areas; in Hertfordshire and Middlesex; in Rome itself and in Ireland.
Now she felt she was nearing the end of her course. She grew gradually weaker, nevertheless she was always willing to help, to advise, to console and to assist anyone who sought her aid. Her interest in the Congregation never flagged. She was present in Choir to within a week of her death. On Saturday, March 8th, 1947 having received the Last Sacraments Mother Rose died peacefully in Rosary Priory.