Derby - Highfields

In July 1947, the Bridge Gate Community purchased the Highfields Estate, consisting of eighty-four acres of land on which were Highfields House, Beechwood House, Mile-Ash House and four cottages.  Plans were immediately put into operation to convert a part of Highfields House into teaching areas for St Philomena’s Senior School, which, until that time, shared accommodation with the Junior School in Arthur Street.  It was not, however, until October 1949 that a Community under the leadership of Sr M Brendan Carmody took up residence, and Highfields became a Branch House.  In that same year, following a General Inspection, St Philomena’s convent School was granted Provisional Recognition as an Efficient Grammar School.

The familiar pattern of growing numbers, with the consequent need for ongoing extension, continued throughout the fifties, and into the sixties.  Towards the end of the decade, a move towards Comprehensive Education in the area involved the Catholic Schools.  As a result, agreement was reached (after long-drawn-out consultation) that St Philomena’s in the meantime, having received formal recognition as an efficient Grammar School (March 1956).  The new school was dedicated to St Ralph Sherwin – a recently canonised Derbyshire Martyr; the former St Philomena’s became the Upper School, while the former St Mary’s became the Lower School, the merger being completed in 1971 and the attachment area covering six Parishes.

It was fortunate that some of the previous extensions at Highfields were still available when, in 1974, the Upper School was gutted by fire as a result of an arson attack.  Fortunately, the damage which was estimated at £as covered by insurance, and the new building was ready in September 1975, when it was sold to the Diocese.  At the same time, part of the Highfields Estate was sold to the L.E.A. for use as Playing Fields, thus removing a serious financial burden from the Congregation.

By 1977, the last vestiges of classroom accommodation had disappeared and the Community set about renovations which greatly improved their living quarters.  But, the Sisters were soon to meet a new challenge in acceding to the Bishop’s request that Highfields provide accommodation for the Nottingham Diocesan Catechetical Centre, in the work of which the Sisters have been involved since 1979.  The establishment of the Centre demanded considerable extension and modification.

In 1985, the building of Mount Carmel Residential Home for the elderly involved the Sisters in yet another new apostolate, and in that same year – following the Derby Congregation’s admission to the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy - Highfields was chosen as the Provincialate for Mercia Province.  While the Sisters continue to be involved in more traditional apostolates, they are also fully alert to the new needs in today’s society and have missioned one member of the Community to deal, at Diocesan level, with the problems facing the Travelling People.  So they constantly bring ‘new things and old’ out of their treasure house in their efforts to serve those in need.