In 1936 I became a postulant in the Congregation of St Catherine of Siena in Rosary Priory. I was received by Mother Rose Niland. On the Feast of St Thomas 1937 I received the habit from Mother Rose. On 29th May 1938 Sr Basil and I made our first Profession to Mother Rose.
I first met Mother Rose when six of us who had been studying in St Albert’s Cork, received the postulants’ cap in Rosary Priory. Mother Rose came into the novitiate. She was an elderly person with a distinguished appearance, big brown eyes which looked through you and she had a pleasant voice. I remember the voice especially because after Compline in the evening she gave us a reflective thought and then she began the new day asking us aloud at meditation time, “What were your thoughts last night and this morning?” Then she read or gave a meditation. We were always anxious in case she would ask us. Sometimes when we visited the chapel we could see Mother Rose in her stall in the chapel praying. When we met her she said “God bless you my child” – she always seemed to know who we were and did not forget people. Though frail we felt and knew she was a strong character. As I remember it : The inspiration for the Congregation came from her but was delegated to other sisters to see it was carried out. And that is where names like – Mothers Monica, Anselm, Imelda, Baptist and Bruno were woven into the story of the Congregation.
A most important memory I share with you was in April 1940. When we went down to prayers, on the chapel door was a notice saying that “I”, Sr Margaret Mary, and 3 postulants, with Mother Anselm would travel to Rome. This was in the midst of the 2nd World War. Italy at this point was not at war. No one seemed to know why they were going but no one questioned the fact either! The notice was written by Mother Rose.
My memory of that journey is a mixed one
- of sadness going to war
- of the journey across to France from Dover
- of the confusion and fear in each one of us – soldiers and sisters alike.
And on top of it all I was carrying a directive given to me personally by Mother Rose: “Take care of Mother Anselm.” She was an old lady.
It appears to me that Mother Rose was a woman of faith. She appeared to have been fearless in the face of fear all around. I have wondered if that is what she was asking of me – to become a woman of faith, a woman without fear. This request was made in the midst of soldiers marching to war and we young women travelling to Rome.
I did not see Mother Rose for 6 years until I returned to Rosary Priory from Rome in 1946. She met us – she was now a very frail old lady.
Mother Rose Niland had a great love for all things Dominican:
- she arranged for us to have Dominican Confessors
- our chaplains were Dominicans, among them Cardinal Brown.
I remember particularly Fr Bruno Hespers of Santa Sabina, who because of his German nationality and connections, played a large part in keeping us safe in Villa Rosa and supplied with food, in the midst of the war which by this time Italy was part of. Fr Bonhomme, another Dominican from Santa Sabina came to Rosary Priory and taught us how to sing and chant the Divine Office. Fr Nolan gave talks on St Thomas Aquinas. I also remember that the Readings in the refectory were always of Dominican Saints .
Mother Rose Niland was so steeped in the spirit of Saint Dominic that I know she wanted the Congregation that she had founded to be rooted in the Dominican tradition.
Sister Margaret Mary