On this day…20 August

On 20 August 1909 Margaret Joyce began her second term at St Brigid’s Missionary School.

Margaret Joyce had decided to become a nun and in 1909 she entered St Brigid’s Missionary School in Callan, Co. Kilkenny. At the end of the year, she left Ireland for New Zealand where she lived the rest of her life as Sister Mary Gertrude.

At the time of their mother’s death, Margaret Joyce had promised her mother that she would look after the children. But life in John Joyce’s household was not easy, and after Joyce and Stanislaus left Dublin, things got significantly worse. The girls were obliged to pawn their dresses for money for food, and money sent by Joyce and Stanislaus from Trieste was occasionally intercepted by John Joyce who spent it on drink.

After five and a half years of this, Margaret had had enough. Her youngest sibling, Mabel, was sixteen by then, and Margaret felt she had fulfilled her promise to her mother. Determined to become a missionary nun, she enrolled at St Brigid’s Missionary School on 15 February 1909. The School had been founded in 1884, and its purpose is set out in this statement dating from 1912:

“St Brigid’s Missionary School [is] intended to prepare and qualify girls to enter Convents at home and in foreign lands. Many religious communities abroad are most anxious for Postulants, but they either cannot get them in their own countries, or do not wish to bring them out direct from their homes at the risk of having to send them back again in the event of failure. A kind of Preliminary novitiate at home is needed to meet such cases. This want the Callan Missionary School undertakes to supply. …Girls who believe they have a religious vocation, and are not qualified to enter at once, can, by spending a short time at Callan, be introduced to some suitable Convent.”

After her first term at St Brigid’s it seems that Margaret returned to Dublin, perhaps staying with her sister May who worked at Todd Burns’ department store on Mary Street at the time. On 20 August 1909, Joyce (who was home in Dublin on a visit) saw Margaret off on a train to Kilkenny to start her second term at the Missionary School. By that time, she had decided that she would join a convent in New Zealand.

Her second term at St Brigid’s finished on 11 November and Joyce was back in Dublin again to see Margaret off at Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) harbour, the start of a journey that was to take her to New Zealand for a life as a nun.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

The Joyce Centre is very grateful to Sister Assumpta Saunders of the Convent of Mercy, Callan, who very kindly provided information about St Brigid’s and Margaret Joyce’s time there.