Worth remembering the history of St. Clare’s

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With public attention focused on the issue of “religious articles” on display at St. Clare’s Hospital, it is all too easy to forget the great contributions the Sisters made to Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders at a time when this country faced unimaginable poverty and its medical care was among the worst in all North America.

It is hard to imagine that the present hospital actually began in a three-storey house known as “The White House” on the corner of LeMarchant Road and St. Clare Avenue, once owned by Capt. E.M. Jackman. Even more incredible is the fact that a set of rosary beads, made from 40 nuggets of Klondike gold led to the founding of St. Clare’s Hospital.

Originally, the plan was to raise money to purchase the house and convert it into a charitable home for working girls. Sister Mary Clare (Mary Theresa English of St. John’s) was inspired to initiate such a plan after visiting the Grey Nun Home for working girls in Montreal.

Fundraising amid the poverty in St. John’s at the time was not an easy task, but Sister Mary Clare was steadfast.

She laboured hard and sold cancelled postage stamps, knitted clothing and solicited public donations, but these efforts were far from enough. Both she and her followers were dispirited.

Their targeted amount was just too high. At this stage, the sister decided to sell a valuable gift she had received a little earlier.

On that occasion, a Klondike miner named James Funchian and his wife, after he struck it rich during the “Gold Rush,” came to St. John’s and paid a visit to their friend Sister Mary Clare with a gift for her of solid gold rosary beads.

It was this gift that she sold to the Knights of Columbus of Baltimore who presented it to James Cardinal Gibbons, also of Baltimore, during the celebration of his golden jubilee in the priesthood. Sadly, the good sister died before her dream was realized.

In 1913, the Presentation Home for Working Girls opened. This home operated until 1922 at which time the nuns converted it into a hospital which they named St. Clare’s in honour of Sister Mary Clare.

This is only one of many incidents from Newfoundland’s pre-confederation history where the different churches throughout the country stepped forward to care for the poor, the sick and to educate the children. It was an era in which government’s contribution in these areas was insignificant.

The role of all the churches in serving Newfoundlanders remains an important part of our cultural history and should be respected and honoured. It was never intended that the Charter of Rights become a cover for prejudice.

Jack Fitzgerald

St. John’s

Organizations: Knights of Columbus, Presentation Home for Working Girls, Charter

Geographic location: Newfoundland, LeMarchant Road, Clare Avenue Baltimore

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  • Ron Tizzard
    August 17, 2013 - 09:26

    Thank you for that Jack. Nl has to ponder, and make up its mind what to to do about new immigrants to the province who grace our 'safe shores'! We must make up our minds, collectively, how to respond to our otherwise 'welcomed' guests' who 'must' seek asylum to our safe, welcoming shores, and take it upon themseles to scar our very own 'rights and privilages' which they, themselves seek, and we most welcomely share with them. We welcome those who are are forced to leave their very own shores for safety, respect and freedom...we offer them no positive succor by permitting them to undermind, and disrespect the very foundations of privilege, freedom and safety by succuming to their very raw insecurities and childlike demands of their 'NEW FOUND LAND. Our continued cowering to their demands will only serve to enrage our own people and develop derision and scorn from the people of this province. No good can come from permitting our new guests to dismantal all that we hold to be 'right' and beautiful. No good can be derived from turning a blind-eye to their ungrateful demands upon what we hold to be respectable and representative of our treasured values, beliefs and rights. Their abominable demands 'from get-go' should be plugged RIGHT-NOW; or I predict that they will very soon be the authors of their own derision and rejection in this Province..which would be very sad. The iconic statue of St. Clare should be restored to its honourable, welcoming place at St. Clares, the crosses restored to the schools where they have been removed. etc., etc.. No good can come from us treating these 'new guests' like two-year olds. Our welcoming arms will soon tire from the the weight and 'emotional burdens' being demanded by our new guests. If these concerns are not addressed, they will soon be rejected and will be seeking another place of solace. Replace, or leave St. Clare where she is/was! Restore the crosses to our schools etc., etc.. immediately. Personally, I already fear that I am wavering in my support of our new 'potential' guests. Thes people should be welcomed to our share our treasured culture; should they complain, they should be informed that they are free to leave our shores anytime they choose. These are very blunt words, shared only to frame a solid foundation for a new way of life for these people. we do them no favors by permitting them to draw us down to their current level...we need to lift them up to our level, to where they need to come, for now, where they'll begin to feel whole and 'find themselves' once again.