Mother Rose Niland

Mother Rose, first Profession

Fort Beaufort

Agnes Niland was born at Hollywood, the family farm near Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape on 21 July, 1860, the seventh of eight children (nine including her half-sister, Mary Ann).

Her grandparents, John and Catherine Niland, had emigrated from Ireland as part of the “1820 Settlers”, and raised six children – three boys and three girls – in the Eastern Cape, making their livlihood as a farming family.

Thomas Niland, third son of John and Catherine, first followed in his father’s footsteps as a farmer while dabbling in raising racehorses, before venturing into prospecting in the Diamond Fields. In 1846, aged 23, he married Mary Elizabeth Victoria, the daughter of another 1820 Settler of French Huegenot heritage.

Agnes seems to have inherited from her grandparents and 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.

Agnes 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 19 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.

Convent of the Sacred Heart, Kingwilliamstown

The Convent in Natal

St Dominic’s, Newcastle

The Convent at Oakford, in what is now 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, Natal.

Sister Rose was sent to that community where she was soon appointed Superior. Unfortunately, Newcastle did not develop as a coal mining area and soon the region was in a recession.  Pupils did not attend the newly built school.

Bishop Charles-Constant Jolivet OMI

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, Natal.

Growth of the congregation

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 25 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.

Mother Rose passes on the burden of office

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.

Sister Felicity Cunningham OP
Congregation Prioress

Funeral of Mother Rose Niland, March 1947, Rosary Priory Chapel, Bushey Heath

Mother Rose Niland OP

“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

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St Catherine of Siena

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In memory of our dearly departed Sisters
Rest in Peace

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