John McCullagh October 6, 2005

At the invitation of Bishop Blake, a group of Mercy Sisters set out from Kinsale on 26 June 1855, with the object of establishing a Convent in Newry. They were led by Sr. Catherine O’Connor and included Newry girl and novice Elizabeth Russell.

In fact Elizabeth was the first Sister of Mercy to be professed in Newry. She was joined three years later by her younger sister Sarah. Sarah indeed had set her heart on joining her elder sister Kate (Sr Baptist) in California but their mother Mrs Russell thought one daughter half-way across the world was enough. Sarah instead mad the one kilometre journey from Ballybot to Canal Street in 1858.

Elizabeth was now Mother Aquin and was quickly entrusted with positions of responsibility within the Convent, first appointed Novice Mistress, then Mother Assistant. In 1865 she became Superior and founder member of a Branch House in Rostrevor. As the Convent was not yet ready the parish priest gave up his house to them. In the absence of a school building, mother Aquin set up school in a cow house! The following year the school house and Convent were built adjoining the church.

The girls’ brother Matthew was now a Jesuit priest and he preached his first public sermon at the dedication ceremony for the Convent. The nuns’ days were filled with teaching, the visitation of the sick and elderly on foot (hence ‘The Walking Nuns’!), feeding the poor and fund-raising. Several bazaars were held to pay off the debt on the Convent and the school.

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