Sister Imelda Hayes
Newfoundland’s 'Flying Nun'

Imelda Haynes was born on March 16, 1902 in the settlement of Renews, which is located on the southeastern portion of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. As a child, growing up in a rural community, she probably never realized that during her lifetime she would touch the lives and hearts of many.

In 1920, at the age of 18, she was one of 56 women who left Newfoundland for a country that was unknown to them. Their destination was Clinton, Iowa, where they joined the sisters of St. Francis at Mount St. Claire Convent. Although she became a naturalized USA citizen in 1948, this incredible lady never forgot her roots. She returned home annually to visit her family and friends, up until 2000 when she could no longer travel. Folks around the southern shore fondly referred to Sister Imelda as ’The Flying Nun.’

She served in many parishes during her 58 years of service, mostly in housekeeping and food service occupations. From 1938-1940, she was housekeeper at the former St. Boniface Parish, Clinton. In the 1960's she served as housemother for resident college students and switchboard operator in Durham Hall, Mount St. Clare College.

She went to mass all primed up, and with a smile ready for anyone who greeted her. Meldy, as she was known by the other sisters, was a great fan of the Chicago Cubs and would sit in front of the TV screen waving her rosary and cheering for the Cubs when they played. When the Cubs were in the playoffs in 2003, Sister Imelda went to mass wearing her Cubs cap and telling everyone, ’They’ll win!”’

On 16 March 2002, Sister Imelda celebrated her 100th birthday at the Alverno, surrounded by those she had worked alongside for so many years. Her nephew Michael T. Wall, also known as The Singing Newfoundlander, and her great-niece Sarah Wall were also on hand for the special event. In honour of the occasion, Michael and Sarah entertained the residents and staff with a special concert of Newfoundland-style music at the canticle in Clinton. Sister Imelda sang along with them as they performed The Squid Jigging Ground, I’se The B’y That Builds The Boat, and other famous Newfoundland folk songs.

When she retired from active ministry in 1981, she continued her ministry of prayer and service at Mount St. Clare Convent and later at The Canticle. She moved into the Alverno Health Care Facility in 2000. Towards the end, her eyesight and hearing were failing and she slept a lot, but she was a favourite of all the aides and nurses who helped care for her.

Before her death at the age of 103, the petite Sister Imelda had the distinction of being the oldest member of the Clinton Franciscans, having been a member of the congregation for some 83 years. She was the last of the Newfoundlanders who had joined the Order in 1920. Sister Frances of Mount St. Claire said that ’Imelda, is our last Newfie here. All the others have passed on. Wish you could send us some more.’

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Dec 2013/Jan 2014

Non-fiction 1

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