From the earliest foundations in Bermondsey (1839) and Liverpool (1843), to the spread of the Congregation throughout England and Wales, education has been a priority. In the early days the needs were great as the minority Catholic population, mainly from Ireland, came to work in the factories and mills of our cities, their children needed education. Following from the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the Catholic Hierarchy had been restored in 1850 and the Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 allowed for all children to receive education. The hierarchy of the time were anxious that Catholic children should have the opportunity of learning about their faith along side receiving a good all-round education hence the great drive to set up, what has become over the years, a very successful ministry in education at all levels.

Most communities have, at some time, had Sisters involved in secondary level education. These schools have been so successful that they educated the next generations’ teachers. The community in Endsleigh, Hull established a Training College for teachers, St Mary’s Secondary School and also other schools in Hull and Middlesborough. The first school named after our foundress is the McAuley School in Doncaster which now has over a thousand students. Other communities who have been involved in Secondary education include Derby, Abingdon, Alnwick, Eltham, Hunslet, (Leeds) Liverpool (Broughton Hall) and Newcastle upon Tyne.

Many of their stories of development are similar to the Maghull story below. They often started very small, in difficult circumstances and responded to growing needs until they became the schools they now are. Initially they were staffed almost completely by Sisters who needed little in the way of salaries! Many started as private, fee paying schools, where many children who could not afford the fees were taken for little or nothing. All this is well illustrated in the Maghull story.

The Sisters of Mercy moved to Maghull in 1939, at a time when it was little more than a village outside Liverpool. They had been obliged to close Hardy Street Convent, a Branch House of Mount Vernon near the Liverpool docks, because of the bombing in World War 2. They settled in a house called Kennessey, once owned by a famous astronomer, Isaac Roberts, near St. George’s Catholic Church and started a small all age girls’ school there.

Ten years later, when Maghull had developed into a small town, they donated Kennessy to the Parish to help its own Parish school and purchased a large house nearby known as Quarry Brook from Mrs. Hornby, wife of the famous maker of Meccano Toy Trains. In accordance with the Butler Education Act of 1944, the Sisters then restricted the school’s intake to children aged 5 to 11.

There was, however, a serious shortage of provision of Catholic Grammar School places for girls in the district and surrounding boroughs and so they decided to begin building a school for 11+ girls in the Quarry Brook grounds. It was to be known as ‘Mater Misericordiae’, a title beloved by Mother Catherine McAuley, and the motto on its badge was to be ‘Gaudeamus in Domino’:Let us rejoice in the Lord. It was a brave venture but one which our Foundress would have approved.

As is the nature of buildings, the first phase was not completed by the proposed opening date of 12th. September 1957 but, not to be deterred, the first sixteen eleven-year-olds were admitted and started their lessons in the Convent parlour at the small fee of £6.00 a term. From September to December the children watched with excitement the small building grow, for they realised they too were pioneers and were proud of this unusual situation. It was more like a family than a school and their spirit has never quite dimmed throughout the intervening years. The first section of the building was completed in January 1958 and officially opened by Archbishop, later Cardinal Heenan in March. Then, after two visits by Miss Gordon, HMI, the school was officially Registered by the Ministry of Education.

The Sisters’ ambition was to become a Voluntary Aided Grammar School, believing that fee paying private education did not accord with their charism of mercy, but Maghull at that time was officially located in Lancashire and the Lancashire Education Authority was not interested in maintaining a Catholic Grammar School. For a time the future looked bleak, but difficulties only exist to be overcome and help, like the US Cavalry, was just over the hill!

The neighbouring district of Bootle had a large Catholic population and some of the first 16 pupils, including the daughter of a Bootle Education Councillor, lived there. He drew the existence of the tiny school to the attention of the Chairman of the Committee, Alderman Hugh Baird, who, with their Director of Education, paid a visit to the school and discussed its future with Liverpool’s Reverend Mother. She agreed to get the next phase of building completed on the understanding that Bootle would send a group of children who had passed their selective 11+ examination the following September

In September 1960 the first contingent of these children was admitted. There was a successful General Inspection by HMI for official recognition by the Ministry of Education in May 1962 and, two years later, Mater Misericordiae was accepted as a Voluntary Aided Grammar School. Because the Bootle Education Authority undertook to pay the fees of all the original pupils as well as of their own admissions, the Mercy charism for free education in Maghull had been born.

To a certain extent the Sisters felt their aim had been accomplished and, for over three years there was steady development both in building and in numbers on roll, but the intake was selective and many educationalists felt that to provide academic education for 25% of the population was to ignore the aspirations of the remaining 75%. Very soon there was a strong demand for Comprehensive education.

The local Parish of St. George’s, ignoring the signs of the times, had proceeded to build a Secondary Modern School for its co-ed Lancashire pupils who had not passed the selective examination. The building, to be known as St. Paul’s, had been completed when it dawned on the Catholic Authority that secondary modern schools were an endangered species. Consequently they approached the Mother Superior of the time to ask if the Order would consider annexing the empty building to form a split site school under the leadership of the Sisters of Mercy.

On the afternoon of 3rd November 1967, in what must have been the quickest reorganisation arrangement in education history, an agreement was reached between the Sisters of Mercy, the Education Committees of Lancashire and Bootle and the Liverpool Archdiocese that Mater Misericordiae should change its status as a girls’ grammar school maintained by Bootle to become an 11 – 18 co-educational comprehensive school maintained by the Lancashire Education Authority. At a later date in the re-organisation the name of the school was changed to ‘Maricourt’ to accommodate the feelings of small boys who might have resented the slightly esoteric sound of its original title.

Secondary Schools:

Mercy Secondary Education

Broughton Hall