Mother Rose Timeline
21 July – birth of Agnes Niland at Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape to Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Victoria Niland, the seventh of nine children.
18 July – Agnes was baptised at St Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Fort Beaufort.
Dominican Sisters from Cabra, Ireland arrive in Cape Town to establish a Convent and School in the Eastern Cape
Diamonds discovered in the Cape Colony. Dominican Sisters from Sion Hill, Dublin, Ireland arrive at Port Elizabeth in the Cape and establish the community and School of the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Agnes, aged 7, is one of the first boarders at the Convent where she was taught Religious Education, English, French, German, Latin, Maths and Botany, Music and Painting, Singing, Embroidery and Gym. She was a pupil at the Convent for 10 years.
Thomas Niland, his son Thomas Jr and two nephews join a party of diamond prospectors – a wise and lucrative venture.
Agnes returned to the family farm at Hollywood, Fort Beautfort after finishing her schooling. The Sisters thought she was too young to enter the Convent.
Thomas Niland, Agnes beloved father, died on 28 December aged 56.
Agnes Niland is clothed in the Domincan Habit and receives the Religious name, Mary Rose.
August – Agnes entered the Convent of the Sacred Heart at King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape
Sister Mary Rose Niland makes her Profession as a Dominican. “Thus began a lifetime of prayer and service, of total commitment to the task of spreading the Gospel through education.” Sister Rose was assigned to the Convent in King Williams Town and later in East London. She taught in school and “helped with the formation of the novices as well as assisting Mother Mauritia with business administration. Already at this early stage of her religious life her ability and reliability were appreciated.”
25 March – eight Sisters arrived in Oakford, Natal from King Williams Town to establish a new foundation. In June, aged only 28, Sister Rose was asked to take charge of the newly established community at Potchefstroom in the Transvaal (now the North West Province) – along with a new foundation at Klerksdorp, some 40 km (25 mimles) away. Klerksdorp was the oldest European settlement in the Transvaal, or the Boer Republic as it was known then. Potchefstroom was the second oldest. According to s. 52 of the Constitution of the South African Republic (Transvaal), no Catholic church was permitted within the Republic. Freedom of worship was granted in July 18719
March – the Convent at Oakford is recognised as independent, answerable to the Bishop of Natal, Bishop Charles-Constant Jolivet OMI. One reason for the separation from King Williams Town was to simplify the line of obedience and authority. Sisters in Natal effectively had three superiors: Mother Mauritia, the Prioress of the Congregation, the Bishop of the Eastern Cape, and the local Bishop of Natal. Although the separation was necessary, it was a source of sadness to all Sisters.
By the winter, Sister Rose was finding her position in Klerksdorp impossible: she felt she was not trusted and wrote to a spiritual advisor, “I cannot save my sould under these circumstances. I have been accused of much unjustly and have been driven to this step.” Sister Rose joined the Sisters of the community at Oakford. On 9 July, 1891, six Sisters departed Oakford to set up another new foundation at Newcastle in Natal. Having been asked to join them, Sister Rose travelled from Johannesburg to Charlestown, the nearest station to Newcastle where she was met by Father Louis Mathieu from Oakford. A school dedicated to St Dominic was opened 2 August.
In January, Sister Rose was appointed superior of the Newcastle community for a period of three years.
A recession gripped Northern Natal: the coal mines were at risk of closing; families were emigrating to Europe and the prospect of having to close the school and convent were very real.
On a leave of absence at her brother’s in Fort Beaufort, Sister Rose wrote to a friend on 16 January: “Bishop Jolivet wishes Newcastle Convent to be independent of Oakford and has written to ask me if I am prepared to take charge of it. I am writing acceptance to him this evening.” Sister Rose returned to Newcastle on 30 January. The following day, 31 January 1896, was a momentous one in Sister Rose’s life. In the words of Bishop Jolivet OMI: “I arrived at Newcastle at about 9.00 am (I held) canonical visitation of the community. The separation of the house of Newcastle from that of Oakford was decided. Mother Rose was elected Prioress of Newcastle.” Each of the Sisters in the Community was asked individually if she wished to return to Oakford or stay in Newcastle in an independent community under Bishop Jolivet. Three Sisters returned to Oakford; five remained under the authority of now-Mother Rose Niland. Some months later, two South African candidates entered and two postulants arrived from Germany.
St Dominic’s Convent, Newcastle, Natal (KZN)
25 June – Mother Rose departs Newcastle for Europe. 1 August – arrives London, England to visit the Dominican Sisters in Stone, Staffordshire as well as Cabra and Sion Hill in Dublin, Ireland. From there she travelled to Holland, Germany and Rome and returned to South Africa in April 1897
Two Sisters join St Joseph’s Mission at Ebuhleni (meaning ‘Place of Peace’), the first mission in Zululand, a region of Natal (KZN). Fr David Bryant considered Ebuhleni the lovliest spot in South Aftica and remained at the mission station 1896-1906. Here he wrote a Zulu dictionary and translated a catechism into Zulu, producing copies on a small hand printing press. This was the first catechism printed in Zulu.
January – Holy Rosary Convent and St Francis Xavier Mission opened simultaneously in Dundee, Natal (KZN) which was nicknamed ‘Coalopolis’, some 60 km from Newcastle. In November the foundation stone for St Dominic’s Priory, Sutherland St, Newcastle, Natal is laid to provide accommodation for growing numbers of Sisters and the expanding school. During 1899 8 postulants joined and 11 Novices made Profession.
During the Boer War, Sisters had to evacuate St Dominic’s, Newcastle. 30 Sisters were refugees in Pietermaritzburg, Natal
St Francis Xavier School opens in Dundee, Natal where the Sisters taught through the medium of Zulu. By 1909, the school was sufficiently large for the Sisters to and win state aided status. In September St Thomas’ School, Lennoxton, Natal is founded.
St Joseph’s Convent, Heidelberg, Transvaal (now Gauteng)
Death of Mary Niland, beloved mother of Mother Rose, on 17 August at Newcastle, Natal from pneumonia.
St Rose’s Convent, La Rochelle, Johannesburg and St Pauls’ Convent, Blerik Holland founded
20 January – Father Hyacinth Cormier OP, Master of the Order of Preachers, formally and canonically enrolled the Congregation of Saint Catherine of Siena of Newcastle, Natal into the Dominican Order.
St Dominic’s Academy, Newcastle, Natal ((KZN) pictured above); St Catherine’s School, Germiston, Transvaal (Gauteng); Holy Child Convent, Benoni, Transvaal (Gauteng)
28 July – a Plenary Session of the Sacred Congregation [for Religious] took place and “established and decreed that the Decree of Praise and of Final Approbation of the Institute can be granted to the Sisters of the Order of Saint Dominic of Newcastle. Given at Rome on 15 December 1911.”
St Pius’ Convent, Pietersburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng)
1914 – 1918
The ‘Great War’, or the First World War begins 28 July 1914 and concludes with the signing of the Armistice at 11.00 am on 11 November 1918
The first Community in England is established at St Joseph’s in Launceston, Cornwall and a school was opened with 16 pupils. Launceston is renowed for the martyrdom of St Cuthbert Mayne in the Market Place in 1577, the first English Catholic seminary priest trained on the Continent to be martyred. St Joseph’s served as the Novitiate of the Congregation until it moved to Rome in 1930. The convent was destroyed by fire in 1926 but the community remained and rebuilt. The school finally closed in 1984.
St Elmos’s, Umzumbe, Natal (KZN) opened in January as a place of convalescence. Its opening was timely: “A great ‘flu, akin to the ‘Black Death’ in the Middle Ages broke out … It spared neither young nor old.” In 1925 a small private boarding school was opened. Its most famous pupil was Denis Hurley, later an Oblate of Mary Immaculate and Archbishop of Durban. In 1934, St Elmo’s became a school for children with learning and developmental difficulties. It was a demanding ministry which Sisters could not continue and more needy children were transferred elsewhere by the late ’40s. St Elmo’s closed in 1988. It was known for its spectacular Chapel built by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War.
St Dominic’s-on-Sea, Port Shepstone, Natal (KZN)
14 September – foundation stone laid for St Dominic’s, Boksburg, Transvaal (Gauteng). In the words of the East Rand Express, “Beautiful weather favoured the laying of the Foundation Stone of the Dominican Convent and schools in Boksburg on Wednesday afternoon by Bishop Cox OMI.”
St Dominic’s Convent, Boksburg was Mother Rose’s last big project in South Africa. When the convent opened on 25 July 1923, it was the largest convent in South Africa, a “vast and beautiful building, with its modern equipment and spacious setting, [it] is at once a monument to the indomitable faith and courage of Mother Tose and her Sisters, and a living and abiding inspiration to all concerned with the future of the town and district.”
Seven pioneer Sisters sailed from Liverpool, England to Quebec, Canada and then made their way by train across the vastness of Canada, arriving in Edmonton, Alberta at the end of the month. This was a short-lived mission, coming to an end in July 1928.
On 30 September, Mother Rose acquired Caldecote Towers and some 40 acres of land in the beautiful countryside of Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire as a house for the Noviciate as well as a school. The School opened with 12 pupils on 19 January 1927.
25 January 1926 – approval was received from Pope Pius XI for the amalgamation of the Dominican Sisters of West Grinstead, West Sussex into our Congregation. Originally founded from the congregation of Notre Dame de Grace, Chatillon in France, the Sisters had been very badly treated by the local priest and bishop. Amalgamation with the Newcastle Sisters was an answer to prayer and enabled them to continue their Dominican mission. Mother Rose received them with tenderness and compassion and on 22 August, after a retreast from Fr Bede Jarrett OP (Provincial), the Sisters renewed their vows into the hands of Mother Anselm Barnett in place of Mother Rose. Because of their ill-treatment and suffering, Mother Rose moved the entire community to Ponsbourne Park, bought specifically for them.
February – St Rose’s Convent, Burnt Oak, Middlesex, England opens with a small private high school for girls. The Annunciation School was blessed and opened on 4 January 1931 by His Eminence Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminste
24 December 1929, Mother Rose and her Council decided to acquire a property in Rome. Four Sisters arrived in November 1930 – moving in while the contractors were still finishing their work – and established a community at Villa Rosa on the Aventine Hill. In February 1932, the Holy See gave permission for the Motherhouse to be relocated from Rosary Priory to Villa Rosa, which would also serve as a second novitiate house.
Annunciation School, Burnt Oak, Middlesex, England opens with 11 Sisters teaching all classes. Today the Annunciation School continues as both an Infant School on the original site and a the Annunciation Junior School nearby.
St Lewis Bertand’s Native Mission, as it was formally called, moved from its original location in Newcastle to Lennoxton, Natal with 130 pupils on the roll. By 1942, there were 600 pupils, and 800 in 1946. During these years, teachers’ salaries in private schools were paid by the state. This ended in 1953 as the National Party implemented its apartheid policies. With the introduction of the ‘Group Areas Act’, Lennoxton was declared an ‘Indian Area’ and all African residents were forced to relocate. The school continued for a number of years but eventually closed in 1963.
Opening of St Dominic’s Priory, Ponsbourne Park, Hertfordshire for the Sisters who were received from the West Grinstead Congregation. Ponsbourne continued as a boarding school until it closed in 1974, the first school to close in England after the Second Vatican Council as the Congregation began to contract.
The purchase deeds of Ponsbourne Park, Hertfordshire, England are signed on the feast of our Holy Father Saint Dominic (then 4 August), securing a beautiful property for the Sisters from West Grinstead, enabling the Community to remain together. Mother Rose was there to receive the first Sisters and children on the Feast of Saint Rose of Lima, 23 August.
Summer 1933 – St Albert’s, Sunday’s Well, Cork, formerly known as ‘Blair’s Castle’ was acquired to provide a base from which Sisters could travel around Ireland ‘questing for postulants’. Girls would then reside in Cork to study for their Matric before deciding whether to proceed as a postuland and travel to Rome. When Mother John Lovely was Prioress General, a small number of young Sisters were sent to St Albert’s to study at the University of Cork. The house closed in 1978.
St James’ Secondary School for pupils aged 11 plus opened in Orange Hill Road, Burnt Oak, Middlesex with Sister Catherine Walsh as the first Headteacher (formerly of West Grinstead) to provide a solid education for children who did not attain places at a Grammar School. Sister Catherine was well ahead of her time as a educator and built up an impressive school that changed in accordance with government changes to the schools system. St Thomas’ was opened as an annexe in 1949. In 1978 the children were transferred to a new site in Grahame Park, Colindale, Middlesex, and later the pupils from the Orange Hill Road site, merged into a single purpose built school on the Grahame Park site where the school continues to flourish.
1939 – 1945
Second World War – 3 September 1939 to 2 September 1945
Rosary Priory received a direct hit from a German bomb at 8.10 pm in a heavy bombing raid over London and Hertfordshire. Injuries to Sisters were minor, but the Priory suffered heavy damage that was only repaired after the War.
25 January – Mother Rose’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years) of Profession. At the General Chapter in January, held at Rosary Priory, Mother Rose relinquished governance of the Congregation she had founded some 50 years before. Mother Bruno O’Grady was elected Superior General.
In early March, Mother Rose was growing visibly weaker. On 7 March at 1.45 pm Mother Rose received the Last Sacraments, fully conscious and at peace. As her hands were anointed with the Oil of the Sick, she said clearly: “That I may be forgiven.” She prayed the Rosary continually and called on the Holy Name of Jesus. She died peacefully at Rosary Priory on Saturday, 8 March, at 9.48 pm. The watch she wore stopped at the time of her death. She was aged 87, having been professed for 65 years.