Presentation Convent and School are 2-storey stone buildings with basement levels, influenced by the Classical Revival style of architecture. The buildings are located in Cathedral Square, within the complex of the Roman Catholic Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and in the heart of the ecclesiastical district of St. John’s, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the buildings.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
Presentation Convent and School was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1999 due to their historic and aesthetic value.
Presentation Convent and School were built for the use of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a religious order founded in Cork, Ireland in 1775. In 1833, Bishop Fleming, seeking to build the Catholic education system in St. John’s, visited Ireland to recruit suitable teachers. After Fleming’s meeting with the Presentation Sisters in Galway, Ireland, four Sisters volunteered to cross the Atlantic and take on the education of girls in Newfoundland. During their first years, the Presentation Sisters moved several times in order to accommodate the growing number of students. A convent and school were eventually built on Long’s Hill in 1844. Both were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1846, possibly by embers carried in on the belongings of people seeking shelter from the flames.
In 1850, Bishop John Thomas Mullock laid the cornerstone for a new convent. The Presentation Motherhouse was officially opened in 1853 and remains the central convent of the congregation in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the following decades, the Presentation Sisters (along with the Sisters of Mercy) were instrumental in the operation of girls’ Catholic schools on the Avalon and across the island.The visual prominence of the Presentation Convent and School speaks to the Presentation Sisters’ contributions to Newfoundland education, and to the defining role that Catholicism played in the social, educational and religious lives of many Newfoundlanders during this period.
Presentation Convent is constructed of both local and Irish granite. Its styling is typical of a Classical Revival building, with its symmetrical façade and large tetrastyle portico framed by ionic columns. Similar Classical elements including a pediment, quoining and rounded arch windows can be found on the adjoining Presentation School. The convent and school were constructed by locally-renowned architect James Purcell and his partner, builder Patrick Kough. Purcell and Kough worked together on several significant buildings in St. John’s, including the nearby St. Bonaventure’s College and the Colonial Building. The ceiling of the chapel and drawing room were painted in the early 1880s by Polish convict Alexander Pindikowsky, who also painted the decorative work on the ceilings of Government House and the Colonial Building.
As the Presentation Convent continued to gain new members, an additional wing with more living quarters and a larger chapel was added to the convent in 1916; otherwise the building has remained largely unchanged since its construction.The convent and school were historically connected by footpaths and interior passages to the other buildings that make up the ecclesiastical complex of the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.Their central location within the ecclesiastical district of St. John’s reflects the growing importance and influence of Catholicism in Irish St. John’s during the mid-1800s.
Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John’s – Presentation Convent and School – FPT 1707”
Character Defining Elements
All elements that define the buildings’ Classical Revival design, including:
-number of stories;
-mid pitch gable roof with two front peaks;
-returned eaves on gable ends of convent;
-symmetrical facade of ashlar stone;
-portico on main facade;
-size, style, trim and placement of large, rectangular windows, and;
-massing, dimensions, orientation and location.
Elements of interior design including:
-decorative ceiling work by Pindikowsky.
All those elements that relate to the environmental value of the convent, including:
-location within the Ecclesiastical District in central St. John’s;
-location of the convent in relation to the Presentation School;
-connection of the convent, via interior passages and exterior footpaths, to other buildings that form a Roman Catholic complex centred on the Basilica;
-prominent hilltop location, and;
-visibility from the road.
In 1862 Bishop Mullock gave the convent the famous statue “The Veiled Virgin” by Giovanni Strazza.
Location and History
City of St. John's
180 Military Road
1853 - 1853
James Purcell, Patrick Keough