Iris Elizabeth Kirby was born in Stockport, England on August 15, 1938. She was raised in the north of England and subsequently graduated from the University of Hull with an Honours degree in French-Swedish. In her early career she pursued her vocation as a teacher and later moved to Bermuda with her husband, David, and son, Simon. It was here where her daughter, Elizabeth, was born. After five years, Iris and her family moved on to a new life in Newfoundland.
In Newfoundland her life evolved in many directions. She pursued a Bachelor of Social Work degree at Memorial University. She became very active with the Council on the Status of Women and was the executive director of the YWCA. Iris became increasingly involved in the fabric of Newfoundland society and women’s issues in particular. She later promoted these aims through her work with the Department of the Secretary of State of the Federal Government.
Iris was a very family-oriented person. She raised her family in Mount Pearl and was actively involved with Mary Queen of the World Parish. She took great delight in welcoming immigrants to Newfoundland and served as a frequent host. Her other passions included the theatre and travel.
Iris Kirby passed away on January 29, 1983. Among many things, she will be remembered for her determination and hard work in securing funds to establish the first women’s shelter in Newfoundland and Labrador. The shelter will forever be named Iris Kirby House in her honour.
On September 21, 1833, a sailing vessel from Galway reached St. John’s. On board were Sister Magdalene O’Shaughnessy and three other teachers from the Sisters of the Presentation of Our Blessed Lady in Ireland, who volunteered to come to Newfoundland and establish a school for Catholic girls.
The four sisters educated young girls at a temporary school until the new convent was built in 1844. Unfortunately, that convent burned to the ground two years later in the Great Fire of 1846. This left Sister O’Shaughnessy and the other nuns homeless, but they found refuge by sleeping on Bishop Fleming’s barn floor. Despite this hardship, they continued to teach, holding lessons in a nearby field and in the barn on days with bad weather.
Sister O’Shaughnessy devoted her life to educating the children whom she cherished, caring for the poor, and teaching adolescent girls domestic skills. She was also responsible for sending the first Presentation Sisters to open a convent in Carbonear. Sister Magdalene O’Shaughnessy’s spirit of commitment and service to those in need, and her strength as a woman, will continue to inspire and bless all those who work and seek shelter at O’Shaugnessy House.