Eltham began as a branch house of Bermondsey. It was Sr. Clare Moore, a nursing colleague of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, who founded a Mercy Convent here in 1874. Her original Convent can still be seen, an imposing white building in Eltham High Street. Behind it, where Sainsbury's now stands, a large and thriving school was run by the Sisters of Mercy for nearly a century.
Just prior to the outbreak of World War Two, the Bermondsey Community purchased another large property in Eltham, this time in Glenure Road. The house opened in 1946 as a Home Office Approved School for girls. As well as providing an academic education, the Sisters gave them training in dressmaking, home economics, parenting and creative crafts. It was, in the true spirit of Catherine McAuley, a preparation for life.
The Approved School closed in 1982, and St Mary's RC Primary School was re-located there with Sr. Carmel Ryan as Headmistress. A portion of the land was sold for sheltered housing and the Staff accommodation block in the school grounds became the Sisters' Convent. The old Convent and school site in the High Street had by now been purchased to build a supermarket, though the original house was preserved from demolition and is now used as a Drop-in Centre for the local people.
By 1996, with Sisters no longer serving the school, it was decided to re-dedicate the Convent in Glenure Road: for the next ten years Sr. Catherine Quane ran it as a House of Prayer, offering quiet space to groups, individuals and retreatants.
Sr. Catherine's move to a different ministry coincided with the need for a new House of Formation for the Institute. The Eltham Convent seemed ideal for this purpose, and so a Community of Sisters arrived in 2006 to prepare the premises for its new work. They refurbished the interior and grounds, and created a conference facility called The Haven in an old annexe.
Pictured right: House of Formation
Since 2009 there is one New Member in the Community training to be a Sister of Mercy and other New Members exploring their vocation will hopefully follow.
The Sisters combine their role as a Formation Community with other ministries, including paid employment in social work, mental health care, counselling, writing and voluntary work for the new Demelza Children's Hospice in Eltham. Sisters also visit the infirm and offer support to vulnerable adults. The house offers plenty of reflective space for New Members as well as potential for outside groups. The Formation Programme includes a number of workshops open to other Mercy Sisters.
Creativity and Spirituality Workshop
Close links are maintained with St Mary's School next door: the children attend Mass in the Convent Chapel week-by-week. A longstanding Mercy Associate group meets monthly for Exposition and Gospel Sharing, continuing the prayer ministry associated with this house over many years. One Sister is involved in Justice and Peace and Pax Christi; another has personal links with the Mercycare Project in Addo, South Africa, which we help to support.
Pictured right: Young mums at a Coffee Morning
The call to community extends beyond the Mercy family, and we rejoice in our links with nearby religious communities, including the Canons Regular of the Lateran who serve this parish. Fr. Roy Dunston, 93 years old and still working, comes monthly to say Mass for us. In the spirit of recent Chapters, we are trying to be environmentally responsible by re-cycling everything possible. Produce from our own garden keeps the Community in vegetables for at least part of the year. A vision for sustainable living is part of our growing global awareness.
Convent vegetable garden