An early portrait in 1897
Reverend Mother Kelly was born in Dublin on August 24th 1879, and was Baptised in the Parish Church of St. Andrew, Westland Row, and named "Mary" after her two Grandparents and her Mother. Terence and Mary Anne Kelly had been married the year before, in June 1878, at the same Church and this was the eldest of their thirteen children.
She herself later said "After I was born, my Mother's Mother, seeing me for the first time, exclaimed `Oh! She is just like Molly'. Molly had black hair - and it seems that I had a crop of black hair at birth - hence my Grandmother's remark. So Molly's name stuck to me! "
She must have been a very beautiful child. All the Kellys were goodlooking, with regular features, but Molly was exceptionally lovely, with a pale skin, dark hair, and the most beautiful large dark eyes - dark grey sometimes, dark blue at others; and, though often bubbling over with fun, yet always serene and untroubled.
That is what she was like all her adult life, even right up, to her death, so it is not possible to imagine her otherwise when she was a child.
Eighteen months later a second child, a daughter, was born (Agnes Isabella). Two more children were born to her Parents when Mr. and Mrs. Kelly decided to move out of the city; so they went to Bray, Co. Wicklow. There they remained for six years, till 1889.
In the meantime, however, they lived at Bray, where the family increased to six. They must have lived in a large house, for they were comfortably off, if not rich; and six children; the garden was lovely, "full of fruit trees and flowers".
Now, at this time, Mollie had an attack of asthma. However, the Doctor who was called in suggested a School in the South of England, and that was
why they left the dampness of Dublin and Ireland altogether to come to Bournemouth, to the Convent of the Cross, which claimed them both from then, with one short break at home, for the rest of their lives.
Mr. and Mrs. Kelly made enquiries. There were several addresses to which they had written;. one of these was the Convent of Mercy, High Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight, then owned by "Mercy Nuns". Reverend Mother Kelly's memoir continued: "My Father disliked it because of its position on a street.
Little did he foresee that our Order would one day occupy the Convent and that dear Mother Agnes R.I.P. would spend the best years of her life there", or that his beloved Mollie would be Superior first there, in Ryde. Eventually they came to Boscombe. Mollie and Agnes were to join the school in September that year in 1892.
As the day of our departure for school drew near, I remember how my dear Mother took Aggie and myself, each separately, into a room when we were saying goodbye to her. Father brought us to London where we stayed the night at an hotel. The journey from Dublin to Holyhead by boat, the excitement of the long train journey and the visit to London helped to distract us and cheered us up after leaving Home.
From London we came to Bournemouth and I still remember the impression made on me by the beauty of the New Forest as we passed through it in the train. And so, we arrived at the Convent and were welcomed by Mother Munday, Mother Grimm, Mother Tholen, Mother Crofton and Mother Costello."
What kind of place was Boscombe then? There was a small but very loyal Catholic congregation surrounding the Jesuit Parish of Corpus Christi. Baroness von Hugel had built the Church. The Order of Nuns had been in Bournemouth some years.
Their Bournemouth house in Branksome Wood Road was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy, who later took over their wooden Chapel as well. There were a few houses in Parkwood Road, but on the South side there was nothing but trees, stretching out to the cliff tops. Indeed it must have seemed to the children that they had come through the New Forest to "The Convent in the Forest".
The gardens, which were so much larger then, were just paths made in the virgin woodland with a thick undergrowth of young saplings and ferns. To a sensitive and intelligent child like Molly, with her keen eye for beauty, it must have seemed to be, what indeed it was, a fairy land.
At that time there were only sixteen pupils, and though the numbers increased steadily they were more like a large family, and the family spirit prevailed, but a French family spirit, for the Order was very strict.
What did the Nuns themselves think of these two enchanting children who had come under their care? Their good looks and charm were self-evident, and the Nuns knew and liked Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, whom they had met earlier that year; they knew that the girls came from a good Catholic family.
Mother Munday had only recently returned to England and was constantly praising the `Girls of Bar' for their lovely singing and for their musical abilities." A new Reverend Mother took up her appointment in October 1892, a Mother Grare, In February 1895 she caught a chill which developed into pneumonia and ended fatally.
Reverend Mother Afchain was a very able Nun, and a very deeply religious woman - she must have had a great influence on the Kelly children, who were to spend the second half of their time as pupils of the school under her care; but for the moment a greater part was played by Mother Grimm, who was Mistress General or what was later known as Headmistress.
"We were a happy family at the school and all of us liked her very, much.
She had a wonderful influence for good over the girls and Vocations to Religious Life were fostered by her.
There were several among her pupils who became Religious of the Cross - the two O'Neills, three McLaughlins, two Kellys, two Boultons, and M. Dunnett." (A very good number from a school which did not reach the 30 mark till 1895 !) "Mother Grimm took the Senior Class and we enjoyed her splendid lessons."
Mr. and Mrs. Kelly had preferred that their elder girls should be instructed whilst they were in residence at their new school.
Mother Tholen instructed them and "on June 3rd 1893 (Ascension) they made their First Holy Communion. their Parents coming over from Dublin to be present for
that great occasion".
Our photo shows Mollie Kelly as Mary Stuart (on the right) in the school play (1897) "Mary Queen of Scots" by Schiller.
Mollie was just under 14.
Mother Tholen would have done her work well (she was to continue Religious Instruction almost till her death), and then for at least three days beforehand the First Communicants went into Retreat, usually given by a Jesuit.
Her sister made her First Communion with her and when, so many years later, Reverend Mother Kelly wrote these words of Agnes, surely they could be applied equally to herself: "All the fervour and earnestness of her generous soul were poured out in her preparation for this Great Act."
On the morning of the Great Day the two little girls were dressed in new white frocks, white shoes and stockings and white gloves. Each wore a wreath of white roses and a veil, and went to special places in the Chapel. The Altar was decorated with white flowers - the late pheasanteyed narcissus and the earliest white roses which were then growing on the Convent wall.
The annual Procession of the Blessed Sacrament was always a great event. Father de Lapasture S.J., who was the Parish Priest at the time, organised these Processions from 1896 and, for several years, Clergy and Congregations of other Parishes joined in. There were usually three Altars in the Convent grounds, one on Calvary prepared by Mother Grimm and the girls . . . later these were reduced to two.. My school days were very happy and I worked hard to get my Senior Oxford Exam. and some Piano Exams. I was admitted a Child of Mary on May 13th 1894, and later on was President."
What was she like at this time as her school days were drawing to a close? One girl says: "An English girl at St. Quentin told me that Molly Kelly was very good at school work. Another contemporay point of view . . . . "In the Easter Holidays of 1897 I saw, then, Mollie Kelly, for the first time. My sister and I were here (Boscombe) for two or three weeks.. . . . We learned that some pupils were returning from St. Quentin and Mollie was among them.! So we too realised she was a girl to draw respect and affection, one in whom you could confide and trust."