The Young Nun
Mollie was by now on the verge of being grown up and must have been very lovely with her sweet expression and dignified bearing. Everything she did she did well. On St. Patrick's Day there was always a Ball, and Mollie and Agnes always opened the Ball as they were the best dancers in the school.
Towards the end of her school days she was crowned "the best girl in the school", having worn the Blue Ribbon, for Good Conduct, for some time previously
She was very musical and played the piano with real talent, and she had a sweet and rounded soprano voice - one that was to give so much inspiration and consolation later on in the Chapel Choir. She always retained a beautiful speaking voice with the faintest trace of an educated Irish accent, the prettiest in the world.
Years later one of her pupils writes: "Although we boys were inclined to look upon her as being almost on a pedestal, her gentleness and concern for us individually was so apparent that we were soon reassured. These qualities were conveyed even in the tone of her voice, which was one of the richest I have heard, and one which will ensure that she is kept often in my thoughts."
Our photo shows Mollie Kelly as Shylock in the "Merchant of Venice" at the school production in 1898.
As was the custom in those days the senior girls were sometimes in charge of the "babies" or little ones for half-an-hour or so, and one
"baby" said how, whilst they all adored her, she was even them a disciplinarian and gently kept them to the rules - there was an innate dignity about her that made its presence felt even to these youngsters, and that they could never have been familiar with her even though she played with them and had such a sense of the comical.
Reverend Mother Afchain's influence must have begun by this time to have its effect. She had a great devotion to the Will of God - a devotion that Mollie had also all her life. She told one of the Nuns, much later on, that it was whilst still at school that she began to make a daily recital of the Litany, of Humility.
These two girls had been at the Convent now for five years, only returning to Ireland for the Summer Holidays; so that all the great Festivals of the Church were spent with the Nuns. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly came over sometimes, but not for all the holidays - there were all the other children at home besides the ties of business. Mollie left school in July 1897, as she herself said, "with a sad heart".
She was just on eighteen. She was of medium height and of slight build. Her hair was dark and her skin ivory - magnolia petal it is called today - and her face was oval, with a straight nose and a sweetly expressive mouth. Her lovely eyes, dark, gentle and serene, and yet so often bubbling over with fun, were the most beautiful feature. of a face that in any event would have been good?looking; she was very young and immature; lovely then, her beauty developed and increased and remained with her all her life.
From the quiet peace of the Convent, she and her sister came home to be the eldest in a family of nine (three of Mrs. Kelly's babies had died in infancy and the youngest child was not born till the following winter), and when Aggie returned to Boscombe for the September Term Molly must have missed her companionship. She says: "I spent a year at home and had a very interesting and happy time as I followed cookery
classes for same months and taught singing lessons at the Royal Irish Academy of Music
She has told later on how much she enjoyed herself at home - her brothers were just beginning their medical studies and the younger children were full of life.
One evening shortly after this there was a grand Ball, a "Bal Masque", and Mrs. Kelly still being in bed with the baby, Mr. Kelly took Mollie. She had a lovely new dress and enjoyed herself immensely." But deep down, she knew she had a Vocation
During her time at school it was discovered that she had a very real talent for acting. Mollie had appeared in a play, "Christopher Columbus"? she played the lead in "Mary Stuart", and one who saw her says, "She gave a most sympathetic rendering of that unhappy lady and had everyone, including those taking part, in tears. The bridal gown she wore in the play had been Mother de Namuroy's dress which she wore at her Clothing".
She herself wrote of Mother Grimm: "She was wonderful in getting up school plays and entertainments. She went to endless trouble designing and making the costumes." When the time came to prepare for the next big play, it can well be imagined that Mollie was greatly missed. Someone must have suggested "Why not send for Mollie?" The play chosen was "The Merchant of Venice", and the role of Shylock was their greatest headache.
So Mollie was invited to come, and in June 1898 she and her Father travelled together as far as London, where he took her to see "the most famous actor Irving in the role of Shylock - this gave me many hints on how to act my part", as she writes in her memoir. Mr. Kelly put her on the train for Bournemouth - and as soon as she arrived rehearsals began.
Her memoir goes on: "I made up my mind to ask permission to enter, and wrote to Reverend Mother de St. Preux, our Superior General. She told me I could count my entrance from July 16th 1898, and I then wrote home to my Parents saying what I wanted to do. My Mother was upset but made no difficulties." (At her "Clothing later on that year, her Mother said, "Yes, I had to give my consent - that was the hardest thing - for you see she was under age".) "My Father came over for the play - he left Boscombe with my sisters Aggie and Angela on July 25th, and Rev. Mother Afchain put on my Postulant's cap that afternoon."
Mrs. Bond (Genevieve) writes: "When looking in my Mother's wardrobe many years ago, I came across the letter Mollie had written to our Parents announcing her intention to enter Boscombe as a Postulant.
To return to her memoir: "In the Novitiate I joined .Sisters Davis, B. McLaughlin, Sr. Mary Ryan and Sisters Elizabeth and Margaret Mary. Reverend Mother Afchain gave us our Instructions and Mother Biggin came to recreations with us. On November 21st, 1898, Sister Margaret Mary and I received the Religious Habit. My Parents sent over a beautiful bridal dress of silk poplin which was afterwards made into a Benediction Cope and was used for several years."
The Clothing Ceremony in this Order is a very beautiful one. The Postulant comes into the Chapel wearing a wedding dress, wreath and veil, and goes up to the Bishop who is sitting at the Altar rails, waiting to hear her ask his permission to enter the Community and to bless the Habit she is to put on in a few moments. This is carried up to His Lordship in a basket by two little girls, also in white.
One of Mother Kelly's bridesmaids writes: "On her Clothing Day I was one of the little ones to carry the basket, and as we reached the Chapel door on our way out towards the room where the Novices were to put on their Habits - Mother Kelly was hardly out of the Chapel when she lifted up her long dress and danced on into the room - so happy to change into the Habit.
Mother Kelly's own account: "Sister Margaret Mary and I often laughed later on when we spoke of the day we were clothed. It was a very cold November morning and we were up at 5 a.m. as usual. We were dressed in all our finery and then told to sit in the Children of Mary's Oratory, with our black uniform shawls over us to keep warm. There we sat until the Ceremony, which began at 9 o'clock. During the Mass which followed we went to Holy Communion, and so it was nearly 11 o'clock by the time we had our breakfast and the much needed hot cup of tea."
She continued: "I went back to St. Quentin with Reverend Mother General and spent a happy time there in the French Novitiate. Mere Lefevre was Novice Mistress and we were 36 in the Noviceship. I came back with Reverend Mother General for Mother Agnes' Clothing in March 1900, as my Parents came to Boscombe for the Ceremony; afterwards I returned to France and continued my Novitiate ....
I spent my second year as a Novice in Boscombe, giving some classes and piano lessons. I also took piano lessons with Signor Bertini and prepared for three Diploma Exams. during the following three years. On November 22nd 1900 Sr. Margaret Mary and myself pronounced our Temporary Vows . . . my dear Parents again came over for the Ceremony and Mother Agnes Kelly came for the occasion from St. Quentin with Reverend Mother de St. Preux."
I was making my second Novitiate here in Boscombe at the time with Mother McLaughlin and Sr. Margaret Mary. We went to St. Joseph's in St. Quentin and then on to La Louviere with Mere Duquesne and the French Probanistes for the Retreat and for the Ceremony. The Ceremony finally took place on September 14th 1905. She took her Final Vows for ever and for ever and was now a Professed Nun.
One of her pupils who left the Convent in August 1905 writes a vivid account of Mother Kelly as a teaching Nun at this time: "She used to enchant us the way she played the piano for us at our evening recreation. We used to dance "the American Valse", and she played Rubinstein's "Caprice" to perfection. It was she also who trained the choir and charmed us with her beautiful voice.
Her own memoir says: "I was named Mistress General (Headmistress) before I left La Louviere, so took up my duties on my return to Bascombe in September 1905. Until 1919 I was in this post. It was a happy period far I loved the children and they returned my affection." She was just twenty-six.
1899 - " I had my hair up for the first time".
She returned to Boscombe then at the age of 26 to be Headmistress of a small Boarding School for Girls. There were about 40 pupils, 30 boarders and 10 day girls.
Reverend Mother Afchain was still in command with Mere de Namuroy as Assistant and Mother Costello was Head of the Boys' Preparatory School. The school was almost what the stone building is today with the letter "E" complete except that the centre block stopped at the Recreation. Room (now the Gym). There was nothing built beyond it nor on top; that was to come a little later on.
In the meantime, however, the Chapel was being built - a most generous gift by Mother de Namuroy. It was eventually blessed by Bishops Cahill and Cotter in July 1907. The beautiful marble Altar was given by Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, "my dear Parents".
Other Nuns and their relations gave the stained glass windows, the marble altar steps and tessellated floor in the Sanctuary and the white marble Altar rails; and of course, as time wore on, silver-gilt candlesticks, vases and vestments, etc., were given, but the Chapel was complete at its opening and very beautiful right from the beginning - a symphony in black and white with touches of gold on the Altar and the Altar gates; and then the glorious stained glass windows.
From its first appearance in Bournemouth in 1871 until 1914 the character of the school remained virtually unchanged, but then with this great expansion in numbers it became, not necessarily better, nor worse, but different.
The memoir continues: "I gave piano and singing lessons as well as Catechism lessons, and of course the usual Sodality instructions and the instructions for first Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. Of course, there were other Nuns as well teaching, and soon the Staff
was increased by the addition of a lay-mistress, Miss Arnold.
Meanwhile, the same style of education was given as had been given ever since the Order had come to Boscombe. Miss Arnold had done wonders with her Seniors. Mother Afchain became Assistant Superior General and was succeeded as Superior by Mere de Namuroy, and then shortly afterwards the 1914 - 1918 War broke out. Boscombe had its difficulties like every other school, the worst of which ,that of getting teachers, was greatly aggravated by the sudden increase in numbers.
And so her fourteen years at Boscombe as Headmistress wore on. "It was a happy period, for I loved the children and they returned my affection." She had also inspired affection and devotion in the Nuns, and in fact in all who came in contact with her.
In August 1919 the call from Reverend Mother General came and she was appointed Reverend Mother in Ryde. There were many heartaches in Bournemouth, especially among her old pupils, whose devotion to her increased as the years wore on, but the parting was really not very long - six years.