Presentation Convent in Placentia By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28179556
Nestled between Sacred Heart church and the former St. Edward’s Elementary is Our Lady of Angels/Presentation Convent. It’s now a well loved building quietly enriching the Placentia area landscape. No doubt all the memories are not fond, for the experience of some at convent school is mixed. Nonetheless, its presence remains a recognition of not only its longevity. There are also merits to its deep reach into the history of the Placentia area.
Much of its former locale has dramatically changed. St. Edward’s School has both come and gone leaving a green space again along the front of the convent. Likewise, it is surrounded now by modern homes that emerged as the decades passed.
Origins of the Convent
It was Nano Nagle who, in 1776, in Cork, Ireland, founded the Congregation of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Four of their members had journeyed to Newfoundland in 1833, the goal being, at the behest of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, to establish schools.
Accordingly, with the encouragement of Reverend Edward Condon, Our Lady of Angels Convent was built in 1864 for the Presentation Sisters, an organisation which was led by Sister Mary de Sales Condren.
It was a two and a half story building which boasted architectural qualities which lent to its uniqueness. Hence, its current contribution to the heritage of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador in addition to the Placentia area was undeniable. Hence, Canada’s Historic Places recognised it as a place of note.
Constructed primarily of locally quarried stone, the designers and builders also added other touches which collectively signify its undeniable value. For instance, a keystone trim helps to accentuate the windows, a feature that works in accordance with the quoining used at the corners of the building.
Alongside being an attribute to the built heritage of the Placentia area, its history also honours the less palpable, yet no less fervent intangible heritage of the town. For instance, the name “Our Lady of Angels” is a nod to the Franciscan friars of Quebec who established the first monastery in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1689.
At this time, the Second Bishop of Québec, Jean St. Vallier helped lay the groundwork for an ecclesiastical presence in Plaisance (Placentia). In so doing, St. Vallier also established the first Newfoundland parish, “Our Lady of Angels.”
Since the initial period of occupation of the Placentia area in the 1500s by the Basque and later, the establishment of the French garrison in 1662, Roman Catholicism has held an important place in the Placentia area. Our Lady of Angels Convent stands as a symbol of this quality.
And no matter how modernised our lives become, it will always be worth our while to take a step back. The lives led in the past are not as different from our own as we may think. Education and religion remain two key lifeways that are still strongly with us today.
The Presentation Convent is merely a symbol of how it was done a little more than a century and a half ago. Looking at buildings such as the convent provides us with an inkling of the values of the day. Do we have anything to learn? What is it they did we’d like to emulate? Perhaps there are elements we’d like to leave in the past. In any case, history will always be a keen navigator for the future.
Canada’s Historic Places 2022 “Our Lady of Angels / Presentation Convent Registered Heritage Structure” https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=2234
Heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador 2016 “Presentation Convent and School (St. John’s)” https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/spciety/presentation-convent-and-school.php
Heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador 2016 “Presentation Convent (Placentia)” https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/society/presentation-convent.php