The People of Gibraltar
1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 18. To End All Wars 

Emilia Ruggeri and Mother Louis Gonzaga Leech - Mother Ermenilda
Captain ERGR Evans and Mina Smith - Mother Cecilia Cummins 
Mrs Carrara Rivers and Mother Raphael Deasy  - Mother Scholastica Taylor
Fr Michael Gleeson and Mother John Baptist McCarthy - Mother Paul Burke 
Mother Angelica Canny and Mother Aquinas Escalada - Mother Theodora Merlehan
Bishop Dr Thompson and Mother Cyril O’Doherty - Mother Dympna Crowley
Mother Cecilia Cummins and Hannah Deasy - Jane Doherty and Joanna Gleeson
General Smith Dorrien

Inside the Loreto Convent school in the early 20th century

In   the   early 20th century Europe was in the grip of Nationalism fostered by those with vested interests in channelling public energy toward national ventures and away from demands for increased democratisation and liberalism. This made war more likely. The spark that blew up into an explosion of aggression happened on June 28th, 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, on a visit to Sarajevo, was assassinated by a Serbian student. . . 

 During World War I Gibraltar served as a very important anti-submarine and convoy base. As the focus for the great routes to and from the east through the Mediterranean it was the “gateway” for more traffic than existed in any other port in the world.  The lines of communication for the armies in Italy, Saloniki, Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia extended from Gibraltar. The allied forces based here were mainly British and American, but there were also French, Japanese, and Italian vessels with headquarters at Gibraltar. 

The American Great White Fleet visiting Gibraltar in 1909   (See LINK

The American contingent comprised cruisers, gunboats, revenue cutters, antiquated destroyers, and yachts, ultimately totalling about forty-one vessels with personnel of nearly five thousand men. Although the Rock was never attacked or directly involved in the conflict many wounded soldiers and sailors were brought to the Gibraltar hospitals throughout the war. At times the Colonial Hospital was packed well beyond its intended capacity with severely wounded men.

Gurneys bearing casualties, mainly the badly burned victims of fires at sea on oil tankers, were laid side by side in the whole of the ‘patio’ area of the hospital. Emilia Ruggeri née Cocklan was now a nurse there. It was during World War I that German ‘U’ boats were first used in the Mediterranean.

Arrival of injured soldiers from the Dardanelles at the Military Hospital  (1915 )

In 1916 Mother Louis Gonzaga Leech was appointed Superior for Europa but she was unable to get a visa and so never arrived. Perhaps this had something to do with restrictions on movements during the War. Therefore, to the delight of the nuns, parents and children, Mother Ermenilda was appointed for a second term of office. Mother Ermenilda, by her kindness to the wounded and to troops leaving for the front, earned the gratitude of the British and the Americans during the period between 1914 and 1918. The Loreto Annals record that:
when the Americans were leaving the Admiral sent word to her to send someone down to the Canteen where she could have what she liked at nominal prices. Miss MacAvin (later Mother Josephine) and Pepita Baggetto (later Lady Cottrell) went down and came back laden in the Admiral’s own car, a lorry following them with cases of apples.
The American vessels which had been stationed at Gibraltar duly left in 1918 to rounds of cheering from all the other men-of-war in port. Their departure would have been witnessed from the terrace at the Europa Convent.

On the 7th October of 1918, just a month before the Armistice was signed, Captain ERGR Evans visited Gibraltar and gave a lecture at the Theatre Royal entitled “Scott’s Dash for the South Pole”. Mina Smith (now married) attended with her eldest son aged ten. They had seats in the front row of the balcony immediately overlooking the foyer and as it was October Mina wore her fox fur stole. 

At a particularly tense moment during the lecture, when Captain Evans was describing how the starving heroes had had to kill and eat some of their huskies Mina leaned forwards and her fur fell on someone in the seats below. The lady, fancying she had been attacked by a husky, shrieked, the lights went on and the lecture was interrupted. Young Stanley was sent running down the stairs to retrieve the stole. No doubt Captain Evans’ lecture, if not the incident of the fur, featured in the Geography lessons at the various schools.

Commander Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans

Mother Cecilia Cummins arrived in Gibraltar in 1919. During her second term of office Mother Ermenilda’s major project was the building of a new chapel for the Europa Convent, this time on the first floor. Gibraltarians contributed generously; Mrs Carrara Rivers gave £1,500.

When Mother Raphael Deasy (Mother General) visited Gibraltar in April 1921 Mother Cecilia produced a play for the occasion. It was so successful that Mother Raphael suggested it should be repeated as a public performance and the funds raised could go towards the Europa Convent Chapel fund. 

His Excellency the Governor, General Smith Dorrien, hero of the Boer War, attended the performance. He subsequently wrote a letter of appreciation to the Superior, Mother Ermenilda. The Annals state that the edition of the Chronicle carrying information about the play was “written in letters of gold!”

General Horrace Smith Dorrien

Mother Scholastica Taylor died four months later in August. She was eighty-six and had spent seventy-four years in Gibraltar, sixty-six of them as a Loreto nun. She had arrived from Greece with her parents at the age of 14, and entered in Gibraltar in 1865. She was amongst the first group of nuns to live in the Convent of Our Lady of Europa. She was also the first nun to teach at St Joseph’s School, originally in the crypt of the Church, where she worked for many years.
When the chapel was completed Mrs Carrara Rivers also presented a carpet for the Sanctuary. Mother Ermenilda’s brother, Fr Michael Gleeson, presented two large marble angels on pedestals, one for either side of the altar. These are now in St Theresa’s Church on Devil’s Tower Road, near the cemetery. The new chapel at the Europa Convent was inaugurated on October 21st 1923 and Mother John Baptist McCarthy, Mother Paul Burke and Mother Angelica Canny came back to Gibraltar for the event. Travel was becoming swifter and more comfortable, if also more expensive.

Mother Aquinas Escalada came to Gibraltar from Seville in September 1921 to teach Religious Instruction in Spanish in the Government Schools.  Although not all the members of the Loreto Communities in Gibraltar approved of the idea of teaching through Spanish some justification was found in the fact that Mother Aquinas also ran classes out of working hours for the serving girls from Spain who used to come into Gibraltar every day to work. By this time Mother Theodora Merlehan was in charge of St Mary’s Infants in Johnston’s Passage.

The Loreto Convent in Europa   (1920s)

In 1923 the “Gibraltar Public School”, a Protestant Elementary school, which had for two years running been pronounced unsatisfactory by the Examiners from England, was handed over to the Catholic Bishop Dr Thompson. Mother Cyril O’Doherty, then Provincial, decided that it should be served by nuns from Europa. It was christened “St Michael’s” and opened on the 1st April 1924. Mother Dympna Crowley was its first Head Mistress. . .

 Mother Cecilia Cummins became Superior of Europa that year. This was also the year that saw the first motorised taxi cab in Gibraltar; but Mother Dympna and the other nuns who taught at St Michael’s continued to walk down from Europa every morning. In 1925 the Gavino’s Passage Community (St Francis Xavier’s) and the day school moved to a large property in Convent Place. The lease had been agreed in 1923 and was drawn up for seventy-five years, the signatories being: Hannah Deasy, Jane Doherty and Joanna Gleeson. They agreed to pay £41 per year ground rent – more than the salary of each nun teaching in the Government schools.