Tuesday, 9 August 2016

St. Francis of Assisi Grotto and O'Brien Park

In June, a visitor to the museum asked about the historical significance of the Grotto located at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Outer Cove. 

A picture of the Grotto located in the museum taken by Garland Studio [011.6.1]
The Grotto is located a little to the side of the church, and contain a statue of the Virgin Mary with a little girl and the pedestal reads:
The Grotto at St. Francis of Assisi Church. Photo by Lisa M. Daly.
According to Mrs. Mary Boland in an April 200 interview, Aunt Marg O'Brien lost four sons in World War II. Mike O'Brien was in the Merchant Marines; David was the youngest and was torpedoed while in the army; Jim was serving with the United States and Maurice also died. Aunt Marg was given the title of The Most Bereaved Mother.

More information can be found in downtown St. John's. At the base of Signal Hill is a monument dedicated to Margaret O'Brien nee Hickey and her sons.

A monument at the intersection of Signal Hill and Battery Road. Photo by Lisa M. Daly.
This monument is an anchor against a rock and a plaque that identifies it as O'Brien Park. Mrs. Boland said that Margaret O'Brien used to live in Outer Cove, but according to the park, her home with Mr. Maurice O'Brien was at the corner of Signal Hill and Battery Road. Four of Margaret O'Brien's sons were lost during the Second World War, and her husband passed away in 1942. This major loss resulted in her being given the title of "Most Bereaved Mother" for Newfoundland for the Second World War.

The plaque for O'Brien Park.
Research into this family was done by Gary Green of the Crow's Nest Officer's Club for a 2015 CBC article. According to his research, Maurice O'Brien Jr. died in December 1940 when the HMS Forfar sank while in convoy. Michael O'Brien also died in October 1942 when the S.S. Eastlea was torpedoed. David O'Brien died in October 1942 while working aboard the tug boat HMS Frisky, which worked in St. John's Harbour. The fourth brother, James O'Brien, remains a mystery. Mrs. Boland said he served with the United States, but could not remember if it was the army or the navy. No record of him could be found on their online database.
The monument at the base of Signal Hill. Photo by Lisa M. Daly.

According to the comments on the CBC article, Margaret O'Brien did have other children. In fact, she had three sons and three daughters besides the four that were lost. Two of those three sons served, and were honourably discharged.
O'Brien Park overlooking the harbour. Photo by Lisa M. Daly
Margaret herself lived well into her 80s. While alive, she was presented with a wreath at Remembrance Day ceremonies as fitting for her Most Bereaved title.


Boland, Martin
2016 Residents of the Town of Logy Bay Middle Cove Outer Cove who saw military service. On File at the LBMCOC Museum.

Boland, Mary
2000 Interview. Senior Interviews Transcript, on File at the LBMCOC Museum.

CBC News
2015 The Story Behind 'Newfoundland's Most Bereaved Mother of WWII'. CBC.ca, 11 November 2015 [last accessed 9 August 2016].

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