By Barbara Jeffery R S M
The first Reverend Mother of St. Mary’s Convent, Handsworth, was Juliana Hardman. She came from a staunch Catholic background and her family had their roots in Lancashire, a county renowned for its Catholicity. John Hardman Senior, Juliana’s father, went into the metal button trade and set up his own business in Birmingham with a partner Thomas Lewis. John married three times and had families with his first two wives. It was with his second wife, Lydia Wareing that John had two daughters who both became Sisters of Mercy, Mary and Juliana.
Juliana was probably taught at home until she was 12 years old. Her mother died when she was only 3 and her father married his third wife, Barbara Sumner when Juliana was just 13. Juliana went to Caverswall Castle in Staffordshire to be educated by the Benedictine nuns and in 1826 Bishop Walsh confirmed her. It seems that it was Bishop Walsh who was instrumental in the Sisters of Mercy coming to Handsworth. In a letter dated February 3 1840 Bishop Walsh wrote to John Hardman to say that he had one grand plan and that was to approach Catherine McAuley for a foundation in Birmingham.
So it was that Juliana set off for Dublin with her three companions, Anne Wood, Lucy Bond and Elizabeth Edwards on 29th. April 1840. After a few months in Baggot Street, they were clothed on August 10th, receiving the names of Juliana, Xavier, Vincent and Cecilia. They made their Profession on 19th. August 1841 along with Sister Vincent Whitty, Sister Francis Creedon and Sister Justina Fleming, a niece to Bishop Anthony Fleming of Newfoundland. The newly professed then returned to Birmingham along with, among others, Sister Liguori Gibson who was a novice for the Liverpool foundation. Mother Catherine McAuley and Mother Cecilia Marmion accompanied them. They arrived in Handsworth about noon on 21st. August 1841. On 6th September 1841 Bishop Walsh appointed Juliana as the first Superior of the community. Catherine McAuley, no doubt, gave her wholehearted support during her month’s stay and took the opportunity to visit Mr. Hardman who was ill at the time and who resided in his house just opposite the convent.