Located on Military Road in St. John’s, NL, The Convent of Our Lady of Mercy is a four storey, granite building built in the Second Empire style. The attached chapel, the Oratory of the Sacred Heart, is a granite building built in the Renaissance Revival style. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
The Convent of Our Lady of Mercy was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1990 due to its historic and aesthetic value.
The Sisters of Mercy are a Roman Catholic order founded in 1831 by Sister Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland. In 1841, Bishop Michael Fleming decided to establish a day school for Roman Catholic girls capable of paying school fees, to complement the existing school for poorer families already operated by the Presentation Sisters. The Sisters of Mercy were commissioned by Bishop Fleming to accomplish this task. They began their work in Newfoundland in 1842. The Mercy school opened in 1843 followed by an infirmary 1854. By end of the 19th century, the order was operating girls’ schools not just in St. John’s, but across the Avalon and as far away as the west coast of the island. The Mercy school on Military Road operated for 150 years. It was the last all-girls school in Newfoundland at it’s closure in 1992.
In addition to regular schooling, the Sisters of Mercy also provided business education for young women in St. John’s from the late 1800s until the 1960s, and operated a Catholic teacher’s college.They are also remembered for their work in healthcare at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital and senior care at St. Patrick’s Mercy Home. The Convent of Our Lady of Mercy is the symbolic centre of the order’s history and works in Newfoundland. Its central location within a greater ecclesiastical district reflects Bishop Fleming’s belief in education as a key means of increasing the welfare and influence of the Irish Catholic community.
The Convent of Our Lady of Mercy was built in 1857 under the supervision of Bishop Thomas Mullock. It was built to replace an earlier wooden convent, constructed in 1842 and situated approximately where the chapel now stands. The Oratory of the Sacred Heart Chapel was added in 1892 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the order’s arrival in Newfoundland. The chapel’s architect, John Coleman, is also known for designing the nearby Benevolent Irish Society building. Since the turn of the twentieth century, the structure has seen several new additions. A 1913 expansion of the convent included a kitchen, refectory & sleeping quarters. In 1942 a gymnasium and auditorium were built on.
The convent’s original gable roof was raised into a mansard in 1913 to create more sleeping quarters for the sisters. This mansard roof, with its eaves brackets, is reminiscent of the Southcott-style that typifies the built landscape of downtown St. John’s. However, the symmetrical window placement, along with the pedimented porch and dormers, link the building more closely to the Classical Revival style. These Classical features are retained in the adjoining gymnasium, built nearly 100 years later. The convent school, on the rear of the building, has now been converted to a community outreach centre as a joint initiative of the Sisters of Mercy and the Presentation Sisters. A unique feature of the convent complex is an M-shaped red stone on the west wall of the building. Bishop Mullock received the stone from the Motherhouse of the Carmelite Sisters in Spain. The stone was meant to link The Convent of Our Lady of Mercy with Bishop Mullock’s alma mater, the Carmelite University of Salamanca.
The Oratory of the Sacred Heart Chapel is a good example of Renaissance Revival architecture in an ecclesiastical context. Constructed of granite, the front facade of the Oratory of the Sacred Heart features a collection of stained glass windows and an entrance way – all elaborately trimmed. A wide cornice moulding sits above the entrance. Two columns topped with a stepped capital, urn and cross run the height of each end of the front facade. A cupola topped with a statue of the Sacred Heart sits atop the front gable. The side facade features 3 sets of stained glass windows with round inset windows and detailed trim. It has a mansard roof and a rounded apse with a domed roof at the west end. The chapel’s well-preserved interior features a domed ceiling over the altar, elaborate plasterwork and brightly-painted trim.
Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John’s – The Convent of Our Lady of Mercy – FPT 2037″
Character Defining Elements
All those elements that are representative of the Classical Revival convent with Second Empire features, including:
-mansard roof with central break mimicking a tower;
-cupola with Celtic cross pinnacle;
-granite construction with exterior parging;
-size, style, trim and placement of pedimented dormers and their windows;
-window size, style, trim and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of rectangular window openings on front façade;
-size, style, trim and placement of rounded arch window openings on other facades;
-size, style, trim and placement of central window in fourth storey;
-single hung 1/1 windows;
-pedimented enclosed porch;
-size, style, trim and placement of exterior door openings;
-transom windows over doorways, and;
-M-shaped red stone on west wall.
All those elements that are representative of the Renaissance Revival style chapel, including:
-rounded apse with domed roof;
-2 columns topped with stepped capital, urn and cross;
-cupola topped with statue of Sacred Heart;
-granite construction with exterior parging;
-window size, style, trim and and placement;
-arched stained glass windows with round inset window and elaborate trim;
-large front entrance with decorative trim that reads “Oratory of the Sacred Heart Memorial Chapel Golden Jubilee June 1892”;
-large cornice moulding on front facade;
-interior elements including original plaster work, bright colors, faux marble work, and domed ceiling, and;
-interior religious elements including elaborate altar, rail and pews.
All those elements reflecting the buildings’ significance in nineteenth century Catholic St. John’s, including:
-cast iron fence;
-prominent hilltop location and visibility from the road;
-location within the complex of Roman Catholic buildings located near the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, and;
-location within the St. John’s Ecclesiastical District National Historic Site.
Location and History
City of St. John's
170 Military Road
1857 - 1892
John Coleman (Oratory of the Sacred Heart Chapel)
Rectangular Long Façade