The People of Gibraltar

1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 17. Boer War

Bishop James Bellord and Magdalena Lugaro - Bishop Canilla
Bishop Guido Remigio Barbieri and Sisters Hildegarde Galbally - Ethelreda Magee 
Ethelreda Magee and Joseph Lavagna  - Joseph Lavagna and Mother Assumpta O’Callaghan
Miss Hepper and Mrs Sarah Smith - Guilhermina Emilia Mary and Guilhermina Emilia Mary

On 30th January 1900 special services of supplication were held in all the Churches, Chapels and Synagogues in connection with the Boer War. All shops were closed and business suspended during the services. We may be sure the Loreto nuns were praying for their Sisters and friends in South Africa.

A great meeting was held at the Theatre Royal when it was decided to raise a Volunteer Corps. Over 700 expressed their desire to serve in the Corps. It was decided to submit the scheme and obtain the sanction of the Home Government. The scheme was approved by the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but the project remained in abeyance.
. . . .Two Loreto nuns died in Gibraltar within a fortnight in May 1901. They were Mother Josephine Fitzpatrick and Mother Stanislaus Ward, aged seventy-four and fifty-two respectively. Mother Josephine had spent thirty-eight years in Gibraltar. The new Bishop, the Right Reverend James Bellord was in Gibraltar for less than two years. A certain Magdalena Lugaro had been granted permission by Bishop Canilla to wear the habit of the Third Order of St Francis and to found a religious order.

The habit of the Third Order of St Francis  ( Unkown )

She was to devote herself to the needs of the children in primary schools in the South. Many other ladies joined Sor Magdalena to assist her in schools and in the cleaning of St Joseph’s Church. The helpers, however, would not wear Sor Magdalena’s religious habit… Bishop Bellord thought it bizarre that a non-canonical institution with only one member should be allowed to continue

In the end the Bishop issued an ultimatum: either she went or he would leave Gibraltar. Bishop Bellord was strictly correct, of course, but ‘Sor Magdalena’ was looked on favourably by the parishioners at St Joseph’s who appreciated her work in the district. They suggested that the Bishop might allow her to continue as she was until she died; she was already quite elderly. 

The Bishop did not agree that this was a solution, however. ‘Sor Magdalena’ stuck to her guns and the Bishop resigned. He was succeeded in 1901 by sixty-five-year-old Guido Remigio Barbieri, an Italian Benedictine, born in 1836 in Monte Cassino.

Bishop Guido Remigio Barbieri

Now the Catholic clergy in Gibraltar numbered eleven secular priests and five religious. There were four religious houses for women: two Loreto Convents and one each belonging to the Soeurs du Bon Secours and the Little Sisters of the Poor who had been in Gibraltar since 1845, 1875 and 1883. The four communities numbered sixty-one women. Three religious houses for men totalled twenty-eight members. The Cathedral, the Sacred Heart and St Joseph’s each had a resident priest. Catholic education was provided by seven girls' schools under the Loreto Sisters catering for over one thousand children. Six boys' schools under the Christian Brothers and the Brothers of St. John of God between them taught just over a thousand boys. There were in addition many other small private institutions and schools. . . 

1902 was also the year that Sisters Hildegarde Galbally (aged twenty), Ethelreda Magee and Theodora Merlehan arrived in Gibraltar. Sister Hildegarde already had useful experience of teaching in the National School in Bray. In Gibraltar she was now appointed to St Joseph’s in Witham’s Road where she subsequently taught for many years.

One day in 1903 an old lady dressed in black with a ring on her left hand came into St Joseph’s School in the building next to the Church and prayed before the children’s May Altar. She inquired for some of the nuns. It was EncarnaciĆ³n who had wanted to enter with Loreto sometime in the 1860s. She had since married Joseph Lavagna and was now evidently widowed.

She lived in Witham’s Road near St Joseph’s Church. Soon afterwards she went to live in the home for the aged behind Loreto Convent Europa which was run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. She died there a few years later and was buried in Bishop Canilla’s vault where Mother Mary Agnes Cross had been interred

A view of St Joseph's Church and surrounding area from the South Mole ( Unknown )

In 1904 Mother Joseph Finn who had been Superior in Europa for seventeen years was relieved by Mother Assumpta O’Callaghan. . . . There had been ten boarders when she came in 1904 including a small number who were accepted without fees. There have been instances throughout Loreto’s history in Gibraltar when children were accepted without fees, for instance in a particular case the father of a numerous family died suddenly and their mother was unable to continue paying for the education of the remaining three girls. 

There were fifty boarders at Europa when Mother Assumpta left in 1910. The day school at Europa also filled rapidly as many Catholics left the then fashionable Protestant school, Miss Hepper’s, to come to Europa. Young and recently widowed Mrs Sarah Smith, who had just arrived from Portugal with her five children, had an interview with Mother Assumpta to discuss the possibility of leaving eight-year-old Guilhermina Emilia Mary at Loreto as a boarder while she went to settle her young son, an engineering apprentice, in Argentina. But Mrs Smith, staunch Anglican as she was and a little wary of Catholics, finally opted for sending ‘Mina’ as a boarder to Miss Hepper’s. 

Views of Gibraltar ( 1900 - Postcard )

So much was Mother Assumpta esteemed that when she was due to leave in 1910 the women of Gibraltar wanted to send a petition to Reverend Mother Michael Corcoran in an attempt to have the decision reversed. But Gibraltar bowed to the inevitable and a beautiful tribute to Mother Assumpta’s work and influence appeared in the Gibraltar Chronicle after her departure. Mother Assumpta introduced the College of Preceptors’ Examinations into the schools in 1906 for the senior girls. Annual results were most gratifying.

        School play - Roses of St Dorothy - at Convent Place 

It was also during Mother Assumpta’s tenure of office as Superior that electric light was installed at Europa . . .  At last in 1909 after three hundred years Mary Ward, having first been looked upon with suspicion and then relegated to obscurity, was acknowledged by Pius X as Foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mother Ermenilda Gleeson a long-standing member of the Gibraltar community succeeded Mother Assumpta as Superior in Europa and continued her good work. . . In 1913 Sister Dympna Crowley, aged 19, arrived in Gibraltar as a very junior nun.