Houses Opened and Closed in the 20th/21st Century A - E

Bamber Bridge, Lancashire 1989 – 1994

In 1989 the Parish Priest at St Mary’s, Bamber Bridge, a Benedictine monk from Ampleforth, expressed a wish to have Sisters of Mercy working in his parish as three Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph retired. He also wanted them to work in the neighbouring parish of Our Lady and St Gerard, Lostock Hall, where a fellow Benedictine was also Parish Priest. So by December 1989 Sr Evangelist, Sr Anne and Sr John made up the little community in Rose Cottage. The work included preparation courses for the Sacraments, Prayer Groups, RCIA and Parenting programmes. They ministered to the bereaved and visited the housebound. In 1992 Sr Evangelist moved on and Sr Ann Marie working in the Primary School as well as taking the Guides! Sadly however, because of our dropping numbers of personnel it was not possible to renew our contract at Bamber Bridge after 1994 and it was a marvellous legacy that the Sisters empowered the laity to take on a fuller role within the various parishes.

Berwick on Tweed 1984 – 2006

In December 1983 the Ursulines of Jesus left Berwick on Tweed and this left the area deprived of any religious. Father Michael Melia, Parish Priest appealed to the Sisters of Mercy for some sisters to come and work within the parish. By April 1984 three Sisters had been missioned to Berwick – Sr Kevin, Sr Margaret and Sr Paul. By May, a fourth sister had joined the number – Sr Clare. The Sisters were soon involved in a round of visiting the local schools and Hospital as well as the parishioners. In April 1986 the first of the big changes happened in the community as Sr Kevin moved south. In 1991 the community received a new member as Sr Christopher joined them. The work now included Rosary Groups, the Padre Pio group, Holy Hours and Exposition as well as all the various forms of visitation. The Fabric Group also met in the house to find ideas to raise money for the repair and refurbishment of the Church. Sr Stanislaus and Sr Clare joined the community in 1998 but by 2000 the numbers in the community began to drop and from that time the smaller community operated an Open Door policy to the community at large. Finally in September 2006 the last two sisters moved to Alnwick and the house was left vacant for holiday use for several years until it was eventually put on the market in 2011

Bradford, West Yorkshire 2004 – 2010

This was another example of collaborative living – this time between a Sister of Mercy, Sr Mary and a Sister of St Louis, Sr Roisin. The two Sisters rented a property owned by their Muslim next door neighbour and began to get to know the neighbourhood that consisted mainly of Muslims, Hindus and other faiths. The Sisters worked closely with the Columban Fathers who were also in the area and together they formed part of a much wider ecumenical community. Bradford is a culturally rich and diverse city with many reminders of past industries, such as the mills. Still in evidence and being re-utilised. This experience of community living thrust the Sisters deep into an experience of listening to “the other”, of dialoguing and of collaborating not only with other religious orders but with other faiths too. It was with some degree of sadness that the time of this experience drew to a close in 2010.

Burnley, Colne Road 1987 - 2003

Colne Road convent was situated in Holy Trinity Parish, Brierfield, Burnley which had a growing immigrant population. At first just two Sisters resided in the house but after refurbishment they were supplemented by three more Sisters. The Sisters quickly became involved in pastoral work in the parish, taking Holy Communion to the sick, instructing adults and children for the sacraments and extending their ministries into the next parish of St John’s Church. They were soon involved in the St Vincent de Paul Society and held regular meetings at the convent. In 1991 the community had the happiness of celebrating Sr Dominic’s Silver Jubilee. By 1994 however the number of sisters in the community had diminished through ill health and the future of the house was looked at closely. It was decided at that time to continue the ministry and this continued until 2003 when the Sisters finally closed the convent.

Burnley, Park Hill 1957 – 2003 (1st Phase)

The Burnley Community in Yorkshire Street purchased Park Hill on Padiham Road with a view to moving the Private Convent School there. The first community of four sisters who moved into Park Hill found that the convent was in very poor shape. It took several years of hard grafting to ensure that the convent became a place of peace and tranquillity! St Joseph’s Private School which had been built on adjoining land went from strength to strength. The four original Sisters stayed at Park Hill until 1975 when there was a slight change. In 1982 the Park Hill Convent School celebrated its Silver Jubilee. In December 1984 the Sisters withdrew from Yorkshire Street, Burnley – this was a great sadness to all Burnley Sisters and it led to more building work at Park Hill to provide a laundry and more bedroom space.
1990 brought more changes to the community at Park Hill as more Sisters joined the community. In 1995 Sr Joan took over the Headship of St Joseph’s School from Sr Clement. Then in 2002 the Leadership Team came to discuss the housing situation for Sisters in Burnley. At the time there were three houses in Burnley and the idea was to reduce that to one, the one being Park Hill. For the refurbishment work Park Hill was closed and the community moved to Stephenson Drive in the interim period.

Burnley, Stephenson Drive 1988 – 2005

In early 1987 the Sisters took possession of 23 Stephenson Drive. This followed on from the closure of the Mother House of the Burnley community in Yorkshire Street that had been on a lease. Work continued as the Sisters ministered in both Burnley and Todmorden. Several Sisters were still involved in teaching and Sr Joseph retired from the Headship of St Hilda’s Secondary School in 1991 and Sr Vincent retired from St Mary’s Primary School in 1993. By the year 2000 the community numbered just four sisters but they continued to minister to the parishes around them. Also in this year the sisters joined in the celebrations for the Silver Jubilee of McAuley Mount, another of the Burnley houses. In 2004 Sisters of Mercy who had taught in St Hilda’s school returned for the Golden Jubilee of the school. Finally the decision was reached to have just one house instead of three in Burnley and the result was that Colne Road was officially closed in July 2005 and the sisters moved to Park Drive which had been refurbished and renovated.

Canvey Island

In response to a request from Fr B Manning, Parish Priest of Canvey Island, Essex, the Wanstead Community agreed to establish a Convent and school there, in June 1950. The property chosen for the purpose was a large, rambling building which had once been an Anglican Convent. Fr Manning had previously approached several other Communities but without success, since Canvey Island was not an attractive place, having acquired a bad name – one newspaper dubbed it an ‘Island of Sin’.
When the necessary repairs and alterations were completed, Mother M. Catherine Powell and three other Sisters moved into their new home, the Convent becoming a Branch House of Wanstead. The absence of a school and Parish Church had resulted in a much reduced Catholic population, so the Sisters – referred to as the ‘Jesus Ladies’ faced a daunting task in setting up a Private School within the Convent. Because most of the Catholics were unable to pay fees and, as yet, there was no Government funding, non-Catholic pupils were accepted, thus relieving the financial burden. This, with generous help from Wanstead, enabled the School not only to survive but to increase and flourish.
In 1953, unusually heavy seas breached the sea-wall, with disastrous effects and forced the temporary closure of both Convent and School. With the completion of the new sea defences and the rebuilding of much of the island’s structure, a population ‘boom’ was experienced in the late 1950’s, and ever increasing demands for places in the school caused unacceptable congestion. When a new school was built on the site of the old one, with accommodation for 240 pupils, it was given immediate recognition by the Ministry of Education which described it as ‘getting in by the back door’! The never-ending strenuous labours of Fr Manning, aided by Jim Galvin, in those pioneering days, are perpetuated in people’s memories by the naming of one long path as the ‘Manning-Galvin Highway’!
The members of the Community quickly became Walking Nuns, and were soon to extend their apostolates into South Benfleet where, in 1960, they accepted an invitation by the Parish Priest, to open a small Private School, in which Sisters of Mercy from Cloyne Diocese (Ireland) assisted while awaiting the completion of the school in Rayleigh.
In 1970, serious defects in the Convent’s foundation led to its demolition, but it was replaced by a new Convent dedicated to Our Lady and St Joseph. The apostolates continued without interruption and in 2000 the community celebrated the Golden Jubilee of their foundation. Work now consisted in working in the Parish and in St Luke’s Hospice in Basildon. Later on other parish work was taken up in St Peter’s Parish, Leigh on Sea until the Sisters left Canvey for the last time in 2009. The property was then used by the Brentwood Diocese for Walsingham House.

Chadwell Heath

On 10th January 1967 St Bede’s Primary School, Chadwell Heath opened with four Sisters from Wanstead working on the staff at the request of Fr (later Mons.) Christopher Creede, the Parish Priest. In 1972 the Sisters who were already teaching in Chadwell Heath went to live in a house in Jarrow Road. The following year they moved to Canon Avenue. They later extended these premises to include an oratory, another bedroom and they extended the kitchen and dining room.
Sister Rosarii (Mary) Keogh had been Headmistress of St Bede’s but when she was elected Superior of the Wanstead community in 1976 she gave up the headship and moved back to Wanstead. Sr Gertrude Horrigan succeeded her in the Headship and moved up from Canvey Island. Sr Peter (Joan) Breen also worked in the school until she became Deputy Head in St Peter and Paul’s in Ilford. She was replaced by Sr Angela Dowd who had been working in Holy Family School in Benfleet. Sr Philippa Kohlbecker also had some time teaching in the school. The Sisters continued living there until about 1980 when due to shortage of personnel they needed to return to Wanstead. Sr Gertrude continued to travel in to school each day by car. In 1982 the house was given over as a House of Prayer to the Diocese. This continued until 1986 when this work was moved to a larger house in Abbotswick near Brentwood.

Cheadle, Staffordshire 1996 – 2001

At the beginning of September 1996 Sr Bridget and Sr Alphonsus arrived at St Giles’ Parish in Cheadle, Staffordshire. They came at the request of the Parish Priest for Sisters to work in the parish and to help out in the parishes of Cotton and Alton which were served from St Giles. The Sisters were not slow to start out on visitation and taking Holy Communion to the housebound. The Sisters also gave instruction to children attending non-Catholic schools and prepared them for the Sacraments. The St Vincent de Paul Society used to meet in the convent every second week. After a year Sr Alphonsus returned North from where she came and Sr Bridget continued on ministering in the area for another four years.

Esh

When in 1977, a sister of Charity of St Paul retired from an Assistant’s post in St Michael’s Primary School, Esh, the Community did not offer a replacement to fill the vacancy, as the intention formulated by the Congregation was to withdraw the Sisters from Esh when, in 1979, Sr Marie O’Shaughnessy retired from the post of Headmistress. Fr G Bryce, Parish Priest, appealed to the Alnwick Community for a sister to fill the Assistant Mistress’ post and received a positive response which resulted in the appointment of Sr M Patrick Murphy. Because of the distance from Alnwick, arrangements were made for Sr M Patrick to live with the Sisters of Charity during the week and return to Alnwick each Friday.
On Sr Marie’s retirement, the Alnwick Community was, once more, successfully approached, and Sr Anna M Ryan was appointed as Headmistress, and Sr M Patrick continued in her Assistant’s post. The new Sisters received a warm welcome from the people who were happy that there would still be a religious presence in the parish especially as it was the expressed intention of the Mercy Sisters to build on the solid foundation laid by their predecessors. As there were only two Sisters, it was felt important that they should return to their Community each Friday – an arrangement with which they were more than happy to conform. The mustard seed had been sown and, as far as was physically possible, the Sisters extended the apostolates of Mercy through the Parish.
With the establishment of the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (1983), the position of the little convent in Esh was considered in depth, the decision being that, with the missioning of two more Sisters to the area, it should become a distinct unit within the institute (and later of the Northern Province). Considerable refurbishing of the Convent was undertaken and, with the increase and cessation of the weekly journey to Alnwick, the members of the Community were more readily available for participation in all aspects of the life of St Michael’s Parish. The first Superior to be appointed was Sr M Josephine Twomey, who came from the North Ormesby Community.
With the passage of the years, the number of Sisters decreased in many Convents and this was true of that in Crook, situated a few miles from Esh. When that Convent closed in April 1992 the one Sister still involved in the Primary School there, was assigned to the Community in Esh, from where she made the daily journey to teach in St Cuthbert’s Parish School.
The small Community of Claretian Missionaries in nearby Langley Park, invariably provided support and encouragement to the Sisters and the Parish Priest, and all worked together with the laity towards the building of a true Christian community. The Claretians eventually left the parish in 2002 and it was a sad day for all. In 2010 Sr Anna finally retired from St Michael’s School in Esh and prepared to move to pastures new in Coundon.