1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 7. Thoughts about Spain
Dr John Baptist Scandella and Bishop Hughes - Father Nicolás and Gabriel Femenías,
Antonio Mateos and Sir Robert Gardiner - Sister Placida Byrne and Mother Teresa Ball
Now, six years after the Gibraltar Foundation Loreto was in a position to open a school in Spain in response to repeated requests . . . In Cadiz they took charge of a school of thirty pupils where for the past eleven years a lady had been teaching the children the most delicate flower-making. They kept the lady on at the school as an assistant so that she could teach the nuns her skill.
The Spanish Frontier ( 1860s )
The Foundation seemed promising at first . . . Unhappily the history of Spain for most of the 19th century was dominated by the dynastic dilemma resulting from the death without male heir of Fernando VII. His daughter took the throne as Isabel II but her uncle Don Carlos opposed her claim, and so began the Carlist Wars.
Political disturbances in Spain in the summer of 1856 caused the nuns to be recalled to Ireland. . . . Meanwhile the young Dr Scandella, a talented Gibraltarian priest, had recently returned to the Rock from a ten-year period as Vicar General to Archbishop Nicholson in Cyprus. He now became Bishop Hughes’ Secretary in Gibraltar.
Dr John Baptist Scandella
In the South a new parish was beginning to emerge where a small number of Catholic Army families and some poorer Gibraltarians also lived. This district was known as St Joseph’s and, although there was no church there at the time, Sunday Mass had been celebrated somewhere in the area since at least 1834 when it was recorded that Father Nicolás was paid $15 (Spanish) a month for taking on the Chaplaincy of Europa.
Sometime between 1853 and 1856 Gabriel Femenías, the son of a hotel owner at Rosia Parade heard about a plot of rocky land in the South which had recently been granted by the authorities to Antonio Mateos, his employer. When Mateos died soon after, Gabriel Femenías suggested that Bishop Hughes might request it of the Mateos family as a site on which to build a church for the area. The family duly complied and after the transfer of the concession Bishop Hughes began preparations to build St Joseph‘s church.
Meanwhile large numbers of British ships carrying troops paused briefly at Gibraltar on their way to and from the Crimea. On their return journeys back from the front soldiers counted every mile of their distance from Gibraltar and were relieved when the mighty Rock at last came in sight. . . Two years after the War the British Government brought to Gibraltar four Russian guns captured at the Crimea. Two are on display near the British War Memorial on King’s Bastion.
Three of the Russian Guns on display at the Grand Parade ( Late 19th century )
Having held office for some sixteen years the Bishop’s health was now failing. . . . During his time in Gibraltar Bishop Hughes had endured a difficult relationship with an especially difficult Governor, Sir Robert Gardiner. (See LINK) The correspondence between the Governor’s Secretary and the Bishop suggests that Gardiner treated the Catholic Church in Gibraltar as another Government Department and the Bishop as – in his opinion – a somewhat obstinate Departmental Head.
Sir Robert Gardiner ( The National Archives )
Altercations between the two (via their respective secretaries of course!) continued by correspondence for years. But then Gardiner squabbled with everyone and frequently with the British merchants of the Commercial Exchange Committee, who eventually sent a delegation to London with complaints about the Governor; he was soon replaced.
Bishop Hughes had been ill with bronchial problems for some years and as the climate in Gibraltar did not suit him he sometimes spent time in Ireland convalescing. This too became a bone of contention and the Governor on several occasions demanded explanations of the Bishop regarding his “absence without leave” from the garrison. On one occasion the Bishop’s pay was docked!
The nuns had been on the Rock eleven years when on September 7th 1856 Bishop Henry Hughes left Gibraltar for the last time. He returned to Ireland and resigned on May 28th 1857. He was a great loss to the Loreto Sisters. He had been a good friend to the nuns. . .
Dr John Baptist Scandella, Secretary to Bishop Hughes, was now appointed Vicar Apostolic in his stead. As a child John Baptist Scandella had been a pupil of the Christian Brothers during their two-year period in Gibraltar (1835 – 1837). He completed his studies for the priesthood at the Urban College of Propaganda Fide in Rome and graduated “Magna cum Laude”. Besides Spanish he spoke Italian and Greek well and had improved his English during the ten years he spent in Corfu.
On his appointment Bishop Scandella continued and developed the projects initiated by Bishop Hughes and in a bid to sort out the educational needs of the boys he took out a lease in 1863 on a large site with sprawling buildings and outhouses between St Bernard’s Road and what used to be called “Europa Main Road” leading southwards towards Europa Point. He later applied to the Colonial Government to have “an additional storey on one of the upper buildings” and “to build a chapel”; in 1867 once more “to build 2 rooms, to erect a porter’s lodge and to build another storey and a terrace.” Permission for the extra storey and terrace was refused.
St Joseph's Parish Church ( Early 20th century )
In 1860 another of the five original pioneers, Sister Placida Byrne, died in Gibraltar aged thirty-nine. She had been on the Rock for fifteen years, since the foundation. A month later in October news was received that Bishop Henry Hughes had died in Wexford aged seventy-two.
Stories have been handed down the generations referring to the poverty of those first years for Loreto in Gibraltar. There were various reasons, but the fact of their poverty is referred to in several of Mother Teresa Ball’s letters.
Sisters at Gibraltar, from failure of the vintage, having 300 poor girls, are in want. We sent them £40 and posted up the enclosed notice. Mother Lopez will procure a vessel to sail with fancy work for bazaar, of which printed notice was forwarded to our houses. You can send your contributions in work hither, we will forward them to Gibraltar.
Less than a year later Mother Teresa Ball, the first General Superior and Foundress of the Irish IBVM, died on May 19th 1861. In 1803 Frances Ball had been sent to school at the age of nine to the Bar Convent in York. Her teachers were the “English Ladies” of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin which had been founded by Mary Ward in 1609.