Sr Kathrine Bellamy, A Woman Social Activist of Canada

January 1, 2008

A much loved music teacher, Cathedral organist and choir leader who believed in the power of music to help people break through self-imposed limits and develop their capacities, Kathrine Bellamy’s activism extended to facing up to the challenges in combating the social results of extreme poverty in St John’s.

Her love for all humanity was not confined to her choral work. She has been a tireless advocate of the dignity of the homeless, the poor, and the physically and mentally frail. She initiated a multi-faith committee that crossed denominational boundaries to spearhead the distribution of food and clothes to the less fortunate in the City of St. John’s.
(Oration honouring Sister Kathrine Bellamy for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, bestowed by Memorial University, 2006)

Two years after accepting her honorary degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Sister Kathrine agreed to be interviewed by Liz Burge. The setting was a comfortable room in the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy near her beloved church, the Basilica of St. John the Baptist. The atmosphere of peace in the room contrasted with the content of her stories of community, poverty and seeking resources to lend comfort and dignity to the lives of people on her watch.

Born in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, Sr. Kathrine died on March 23, 2010 at the age of 86. Music was a feature of her household that helped form her, for her father, who came from England, taught her English folk songs. Her mother’s Irish lineage embraced generations of musicians. She had “an extraordinarily fine soprano voice and was an accomplished pianist.” Living in an era before television when people provided their own entertainment, Kathrine was exposed to sing-songs at home, and concerts and plays in her town.

Attending boarding school in St. John’s from the age of 12, Kathrine came under the influence of the Sisters of Mercy, who “sparked a real love of learning” and showed by example a life of joyful dedication that appealed to the young girl. At the age of eighteen, she decided to enter the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy. Although she had wanted to be a math teacher, she was to become a brilliant musician and social activist instead: “Music gifted me,” she said with characteristic modesty.

Assigned to Our Lady of Mercy College, Kathrine learned to teach and also to conduct music with Sisters who were gifted musicians. By 1960, she was in charge of all classroom choirs in the school, as well as the Mercy Glee Club choir, which won accolades and wide recognition. This, Sr. Kathrine attributed to the “astonishingly sympathetic and supportive accompaniment” of Sr. Celine Veitch. Her own flair for teaching singing created choirs of young people and won, for example, the prestigious Mathieson Trophy in 1965 for the best junior choir in Canada….

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