Esther Bentata and Mother Peter O’Donnell - Sister Secunda Quinn
Mother Gerard Gallagher and Mother Thomas More - Mother Antonia Byrne
Mother Juliana Burke and General Sir Charles Monro - Miss Mannion
Imossi and Hannah Deasy (Reverend Mother Raphael, Superior General of Loreto)
Jane Doherty (Mother Cyril, Irish Provincial Superior)
Nora Byrne (Mother Francis Antonia, Superior of St Francis Xavier’s, Gibraltar)
Esther Bentata (‘Teté’ Benady, born in 1914) gives a description of St Francis Xavier’s school at Gavino’s around the time of its removal to Convent Place. Esther was at school in the 1920s and remembers helping to take all the books from one school to the other. At Gavino’s the nuns had their Convent at the very top of the house and the chapel was there also. When the Catholic girls went up to Chapel in the morning Esther and the other Jewish girls stayed in one of the rooms below. There was never any attempt at proselytising and Esther says that she and her friends have always had very fond memories of the Loreto nuns.
The Rock from Spain ( 1920s - Gerald Palmer )
In the centre of the building there was a patio which they used at play time. There were a great many plants around the borders of the patio. There were about five or six classrooms in the building as well as a music room and a library. The building was heated with coal fires if it was cold enough in winter.
Esther remembers many of the nuns and what they taught. Mother Peter O’Donnell was particularly popular with the children. Esther says that Mother Peter was very strict during school hours and also very kind and friendly out of school time. Past Pupils often returned to visit the nuns after they had left the school. Some of Esther’s other teachers were:
Sister Secunda Quinn who looked after the house
Mother Gerard (Gallagher?) who took them for drawing and painting
Mother Thomas More took Games
Mother Antonia Byrne taught History and ‘Points of Manners’ . . .
Esther remembers how she was often in difficulties with Mother Antonia because she couldn’t remember the dates of important events in History. She also remembers Mother Juliana Burke who left Gibraltar in 1925 when the school moved to Convent Place.
At Convent Place the subjects on their time-table included:
English Language and Literature, Mathematics, Games, ‘Swedish Drill’, Music and Political Geography” which Esther particularly enjoyed, and the inevitable “use of the globe" . .
The nuns arranged for drill sergeants from the Army to come to the schools as Physical Training Instructors. Spanish was taught as an extra subject after school hours at five o’clock. Esther herself took French with a private tutor who came to her home, although French was also taught at the school. There seems to have been a fair amount of flexibility about the subjects the children and their parents chose.
When the girls received their School Leaving Certificates after passing the June public examinations they would be taken to the Governor’s Palace – opposite the west façade of the school – and General Sir Charles Monro, hero of the Great War would himself present the certificates.
Sir Charles Monro (1920s )
In preparation for this the girls were, of course, groomed about how they were to behave, how they must receive the certificate in their right hand, pass it into their left, and then, when the Governor held out his hand, they should shake hands with their right. The Examination Boards used by the school at this time were the Sheffield and Cambridge Universities’ Examinations Syndicates.
The girls from St Francis Xavier’s wore uniforms for the first time when they moved to Convent Place in 1925. Then the new uniform consisted of a Navy blue ‘gymslip’ (sleeveless tunic with pleats held in at the waist by a sash) and a Navy blue felt hat with a wide brim, and a badge with ‘LC’ (Loreto Convent) on the front.
They would wear their hats until they got to the corner where 'Hulhoven’s' the hairdressers was situated; ‘Flemings’ now occupies the premises. They would then take their hats off and walk along Church Street hatless. Worthy citizens would, of course, tut tut, and tell them off, and occasionally, if they had nothing better to do, they would report the girls’ behaviour to the nuns.
Church Street - now part of Main Street ( early 20th century postcard )
Miss Mannion was a lay teacher at the school in Gavino’s. She also had a sweet shop immediately opposite the Convent Place building and when the school moved to the new premises the girls used to buy pear drops from her shop and would sometimes try to suck them in class and hide them in their desks in an emergency.
Esther remembers going on a picnic with the nuns to the Imossi’s farm in Algeciras and has photographs taken on those occasions. Sometimes the children would be taken on outings to Camp Bay or Little Bay, or even Sandy Bay on the east side if the Navy allowed them to use the Dockyard Tunnel.
Soldier guarding the Cable and Wireless depot in Camp Bay (1920s )
The Convent Place building which until then had been used by the Board of Sanitary Commissioners, later the City Council, was now:
. . leased to Hannah Deasy (Reverend Mother Raphael, Superior General of Loreto), Jane Doherty (Mother Cyril, Irish Provincial Superior) and Nora Byrne (Mother Francis Antonia, Superior of St Francis Xavier’s, Gibraltar) and their successors in office, being British.
The reason for this codicil was that there had always been pressure from the Governors of Gibraltar since its capture to ensure that – in theory at least – only British subjects could own or lease land in Gibraltar, and preference had always been given to military officers. This had originally been partly in an attempt to discourage the permanent settlement of a civilian population on the Rock.
By 1925, however, although the condition had remained on the statute books the civilian population of the Rock had grown alarmingly and “natives” – i.e., Gibraltar-born British subjects – were now well established as a civilian population with rights of permanent residence which even the non-Gibraltarian British did not enjoy. Mother Raphael took out the lease on the Convent Place building for seventy-five years, theoretically until the year 2000; great changes in circumstances can take place in seventy-five years, however. In the Government schools each nun’s salary at this time was about £36 a year. The Brothers, being men, were receiving about £60.