MOLONY, BELINDA (named Mary Xavier), sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; b. 1781 in Tulla, County Clare (Republic of Ireland), the daughter of Francis and Catherine Maloney; d. 8 Oct. 1865 in St John’s, Nfld.
Belinda Molony entered the convent of the Presentation nuns at Galway (Republic of Ireland) in 1822, and in 1825 pronounced her vows, taking the name Sister Mary Xavier. On 11 Aug. 1833 she, Mother Mary Bernard Kerwin, and two other sisters of the Presentation order left Galway for Newfoundland at the urging of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming*. Previously the Benevolent Irish Society had established an Orphan Asylum school for the education of the poor children of both sexes in St John’s. Bishop Fleming felt the girls should be withdrawn from the bad influence of the tutelage of men and association with boys for they might “lose much of that delicacy of feeling and refinement of sentiment which form the ornament and the grace of their sex.”
Although the sisters reached St John’s harbour on 21 Sept. 1833 – the first nuns to serve in Newfoundland – no account of their arrival was received in Galway until four months later. The community gave them up for lost, celebrated Solemn Requiem Mass for them, and burned copies of their vows.
Within a few weeks of their arrival the sisters had gathered and divided into classes girls of poor families in the settlement. They began teaching in a room at the rear of an old tavern, the “Rising Sun.” The curriculum included grammar, literature, arithmetic, French, music, needle work, and Christian doctrine. Attendance at the convent school rose from 450 in 1833 to 1,200 by 1844. Later boys and adults were also taught in the school. There were several moves before a new convent was built in December 1844, but the St John’s fire of 9 June 1846 reduced it to ashes. The sisters, who numbered eight in 1846, moved to Bishop Fleming’s farm on the outskirts of the city until Bishop John Thomas Mullock arranged for the construction of a new convent on Cathedral Square in 1850.
In 1853 Sister Mary Xavier was made the first superior of a new convent in Harbour Main, the third branch house to be established. When the convent school opened in that town on 9 July 1853, 180 children attended. After three years Mother Mary Xavier became ill and returned to the mother house in St John’s where she occupied herself by painting pious pictures on satin and making altar ornaments until her death at age 84.
Archives of the Presentation Sisters in Newfoundland (St John’s), Annals of the Presentation Convent, Harbour Main; Correspondence, Sister Mary Xaverius Lynch to Mother Mary John Power, Sept. 1833; Sister Mary Xaverius Lynch to Sister Ann, 6 Jan. 1834; Sister Mary Magdalen O’Shaughnessy to Mother Mary John Power, 22 Sept. 1833; Sister Mary Magdalen O’Shaughnessy to Sister Mary Augustine, 21 Nov. 1833: Records of professions, deaths, and interments. Morning Courier and General Advertiser (St John’s), 10, 12 June 1846. J. T. Mullock, Two lectures on Newfoundland, delivered at St. Bonaventure’s College, January 25, and February 1, 1860 (New York, 1860), 60. Newfoundlander, 18 June 1846. [Edward Wix], Six months of a Newfoundland missionary’s journal, from February to August, 1835 (London, 1836). M. F. Howley, Ecclesiastical history of Newfoundland (Boston, 1888), 275–300. F. W. Rowe, The development of education in Newfoundland (Toronto, 1964). T. J. Walsh, Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters (Dublin, 1959), 255. “History of Presentation convents in Newfoundland,” Daily News (St John’s), 8 Dec. 1958, 24. “Presentation nuns in Newfoundland in 1833,” Evening Telegram (St John’s), 30 Jan. 1958, 30. “Presentation Sisters here since 1833,” Evening Telegram (St John’s), 6 Oct. 1961, 38.