The People of Gibraltar
1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 20. Progress and Modernisation

Dorothy Garrod and Sister Afra Doyle - Sister Lorcan and Mary Ransome,
Mother Ermenilda and Sor Magdalena - Bishop Bellord and Archbishop Peter Amigo
Bishop Thompson and Bishop Fitzgerald - Sir Alexander Godley 
Menchi and Hortensia Gomez - Mother Dympna and Mother Ethelreda
Brother Vincent Ryan and Sister Anne O’Keefe - Mother Philomena Roche
Frances Stagno and Clemencia Gomez - Lourdes Richardson and Marie Restano
Donna Balensi and Ester Benady - Leah Benady and Polly Peralta
Olga Bruzon and Mercy Carboni - Mothers Antonia Byrne and Ethelreda Mcgee
Mothers Peter O'Donnell and Seraphina

Advert for the Empire Marketing Board   ( 1928 - Charles Pears )

Another human skull was discovered in 1926 near Devil’s Tower, this time by anthropologist, palaeontologist and archaeologist Dorothy Garrod who later became the first woman Professor at Cambridge. From 1928 all women in Britain over twenty-one were able to vote. The same year automatic telephony was introduced in Gibraltar. The beginnings of a limited self-government had begun to appear in Gibraltar since the creation of the elective City Council in 1921. It was a time of scientific and social progress and these events would no doubt have been noted and discussed at school.

Dorothy Garrod

 Sister Afra Doyle died that August. She was a member of the group that went to Spain for the 1888 Foundation, but she had been back in Gibraltar for some time when she died. At Our Lady of Europa Convent School Sister Lorcan the Portress opened the door to a little six-year-old red-head, Mary Ransome, and her parents. She had been brought to enrol as a new pupil. Sister Lorcan had a large pocket in which she kept sweets for children who cried on their first day. 
Upstairs were the dormitories for the boarders, each cubicle surrounded by curtains which afforded the children privacy while they were dressing. The curtains were drawn back during the day. At about this time a small concert hall was built complete with stage at the front and a gallery at the back. The hall doubled as a gymnasium. When concerts were held all the Physical Training equipment was moved out of the way and the body of the hall was filled with chairs.
The boarders rose at a quarter past six in the morning, washed in cold water, dressed and attended Mass in the Chapel at 7 o’clock. They then had breakfast and made their beds. They had half an hour to prepare their school work for the day. The day girls arrived at 9 o’clock and the school day began.
There was a break for lunch at 11.30 a.m. and then lessons continued until 3 o’clock when the boarders had their main meal. One of the Sisters presided at meal times. In the afternoon and evening there was time to play games or read books. Then the children prepared their work for the next day, went to Chapel and had their tea. The younger girls went to bed, while the older ones had more study time. They might then go down to the hall to dance while someone played the piano. 
Drill Displays were held on the tennis court and parents and special guests were invited to watch. These were always grand events, the beginnings of a tradition in Gibraltar which later developed into the spectacular Sports Days of the 1950s. Baths were taken once a week and the girls groomed their hair by brushing it for a long time with eau de cologne which was brought from Spain in large bottles. Uniforms had been introduced here at Europa too, and the rule about the length of the gymslip was that “the hem must touch the ground when you kneel”.

1920s Us Navy Ports of the World Map

The school tie was royal blue, black and white diagonal stripes. Since the move to Convent Place in 1925 Mother Ermenilda had been urging Bishop Thompson to apply for permission to use part of a small building in Town Range which backed on to St Francis Xavier’s. Unfortunately the Bishop could make no headway with the War Department, who owned – but didn’t use – the building in question. Mother Ermenilda seems to have felt that Bishop Thompson had handled the matter badly and she said so!

In St Joseph’s Parish Sor Magdalena died in 1927, twenty-six years after her non-canonical position had been challenged by Bishop Bellord. That year also Bishop Thompson resigned after a difficult time in Gibraltar, having had Sor Magdalena to handle disputes in the priests’ house at the Cathedral. His priests consisted of four Spanish Benedictines, a number of Portuguese Jesuits seeking refuge after attacks on religious in their country and four Gibraltarian diocesan priests. 

It seems the Benedictines from northern Spain were insisting that the rest of the household should keep the Benedictine Rule. The Gibraltarians objected and Bishop Thompson, speaking no Spanish, was unable to keep the peace between them. After an official visitation by Rome’s delegate, Archbishop Peter Amigo, himself a Gibraltarian, Bishop Thompson decided to resign. His successor was Bishop Fitzgerald, who arrived on the 25th October 1927. 

Bishop Henry Gregory Thompson

Post-war wedding held in Arengo's Palace. The man in the middle is Bishop Fitzgerald (See LINK)

The new Bishop now gave the Loreto nuns an additional section of the Parish Priest’s house at St Joseph’s. This consisted of two fair-sized rooms and one smaller room. At least the cramped conditions at St Joseph’s would be relieved. The Governor, Sir Alexander Godley, came to open the new addition. He put the key into the lock but it refused to turn. Knowing nothing of ‘political correctness’ in those days His Very British Excellency remarked: “This must be an Irish key – it’s so contrary!” 

Sir Alexander Godley  (George Edmund Butle )

Everyone laughed politely and Brother Vincent Ryan ran around the back to open the door from the inside. Education was still not compulsory for the civil population in Gibraltar although for the Garrison children it had become so in June 1917. By now, however, the vast majority of the Gibraltarian children received a fair education in private or privately aided schools. The number of children on the rolls of these schools in the early part of the century was nearly two thousand girls and just over one thousand five-hundred boys, a total of over three thousand – not bad for a population of about twenty thousand in those days. . . .       

Archbishop Peter Amigo  ( National Portrait Gallery )

For the next few years life in Gibraltar and at Loreto’s various schools continued uneventfully, except that at St Mary’s Catholic Elementary School for Girls on Hospital Hill a Domestic Economy Section was opened as part of the new drive to introduce subjects of a more scientific nature into the curriculum. There were the usual prize-giving events, bazaars and concerts performed at the Theatre Royal. Menchi Gomez in Mother Dympna’s class at St Mary’s took the part of “Priscilla” in one of these plays, and on another occasion acted in a comedy about “Mechanical Jane”, an automated robot programmed to do the housework – until something in the new-fangled gadget malfunctioned and “Mechanical Jane” began to break everything in sight. 

Mother Dympna's St Mary's School class rehearsal of Fairies in the Alameda Gardens for a concert which was later held in the Theatre Royal    (1928)

Convent Place (1927 )

Menchi’s mother Hortensia used to make many of the costumes for the actresses. For concerts Menchi would dance the Jota Aragonesa which always went down well. Mrs Cruz used to play the piano and taught the choreography. Now and again there had been abortive attempts at the Boarding School in Europa and at St Mary’s and St Francis Xavier’s to introduce Irish and Scottish dancing but the children in Gibraltar preferred Sevillanas and Jotas. When important visitors were shown around the various schools, children would be asked to perform “recitations” for them. 

Music, whether instrumental or choral, featured stronglyin the curriculum of each of the seven schools managed by the Loreto nuns. Mother Ethelreda, who taught music at Loreto Convent Place, was therefore nicknamed “María de la O” after the main character in a film of that name produced in 1936 just before the Spanish Civil War broke out. Its melodramatic story-line about the impossible love between a young gypsy woman and a member of the landowning gentry was of the tragic “Opera Carmen” variety. The connection, presumably, was Mother Ethelreda’s voice-training and breathing exercises for sustaining vowel sounds! 

María de la O

Sister Anne O’Keefe was teaching at St Mary’s on Hospital Hill; Sister Regina Ramsey used to teach Domestic Economy to the children at St Michael’s, St Joseph’s and St Mary’s once they had their new kitchen fitted. Menchi Gomez did not like the lentil stew cooked on one occasion and got into trouble for expressing her views on the subject above a whisper!
In the afternoons Sister Regina taught at Convent Place. Several of the nuns taught in more than one school and sometimes children from the Government schools would be brought over to Convent Place where they could use the netball court. In summer there were picnics in Spain or days out to Sandy Bay in Gibraltar. On outings to the beach the girls would enjoy walking through the three quarters of a mile long Dockyard Tunnel which had been driven straight through the Rock in 1900 to facilitate the transport of stone from the quarries on the east side to the Dockyard in the south west. On those occasions a local confectioner’s shop would supply small cakes for the children to take with them. When they went on these picnics the children wore new pinafore dresses. 

At the end of the year there were always the much acclaimed drill displays, forerunners of the splendid Loreto Sports Days which took place in Gibraltar after 1946. They were always the talk of the town. Prize-giving days were also major events. There was always something going on: concerts and musical events, dramatic productions at the Theatre Royal, outings to the beach or up the Rock or to Spain, prize giving days, reception of certificates for success at the Public Examinations. Mother Philomena Roche was appointed Superior in Europa in 1930. She was responsible for preparing more music cubicles and refurbishing six new rooms for the senior boarders.