The People of Gibraltar
1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 25. Back to the Beginning

Mothers Peter Claver Walsh and Francis Gerard Pierse - Mother Colette Hooper
Mothers Hildegarde Galbally and Gerard Benner - Mother Dympna Crowley     
Mother Consuelo Conroy and Sister Fintan Downey - Sister Hyacinth Murray
Sisters Oliver Tobin and Hiltrude McEvoy - Sister Regina Ramsey 
Mother Francis Gerard and Mother Hildegarde Stamp - Mother Paula McCorry
Mariluz Beiso and Mother Paula -Brother Foley,   
At long last, during the night of December 15th 1945, just after the end of the War, the  SS Empire Welland arrived in Gibraltar bringing bk twelve nuns. 

The SS Empire Welland

The Loreto Sisters were returning to Gibraltar exactly a hundred years – almost to the day – after their foundation in 1845. They were:
Mothers Peter Claver Walsh 
Francis Gerard Pierse
Colette Hooper
Hildegarde Galbally
Gerard Benner
Dympna Crowley     
Consuelo Conroy
Sisters Fintan Downey
Hyacinth Murray
Oliver Tobin
Hiltrude McEvoy

Nine of the nuns had been in Gibraltar before the War. The new-comers were Mother Consuelo and Sisters Fintan and Hyacinth, though in fact even Mother Consuelo – before she entered – had visited Gibraltar with her family for a few hours. . . 

When the nuns arrived at the Convent on Europa Road it had only just been vacated by the Army and though the soldiers had made reasonable efforts to keep the place tidy there was a lot of cleaning to be done, all their pre-War stored belongings to be unpacked and furniture to be re-arranged. Sister Regina Ramsey has a story that one of the nuns had left her knitting in the corner of a settee before leaving Gibraltar in 1940. It was still there in 1945! 

The Loreto Convent - Europa

The Christian Brothers had prepared the building on Scud Hill which later became St Joseph’s Secondary School in the 1950s. In January the nuns once more moved in to their old Convent at Europa and the Government secondary school (the Girls’ Grammar School) was re-opened there for all the senior girls from Plata Villa. Mother Francis Gerard was the first Head Teacher of Loreto High School. The nuns had their work cut out. A pupil at Plata Villa during that interim RAF / Christian Brothers’ period recalls:
We were wild! As you can imagine, we ran wild with the boys and twisted many of the male teachers around our little fingers, and we all had ‘crushes’ on the handsome RAF Instructors.
A story is told of Mother Xaveria McCarthy teaching in Ireland in 1834, well before even the merest flicker of an idea of a Loreto in Gibraltar was a twinkle in Mother Teresa’s Ball’s eye. The normally high-spirited children in a very large Dublin class were asked why they were being so unusually quiet. They replied that it was “because Mrs McCarthy looked at us.”

Very soon the Gibraltar girls needed only to be “looked at” by one of the nuns for their perfect behaviour to be guaranteed. Together with the new discipline (which elicited sighs of relief from some parents) the nuns also brought to the children a sense of safety and security, and school life was ‘serious’ – but also fun. Occasionally during a quiet lesson peals of children’s laughter would be heard coming from some distant part of the building, and we would know that Mother Consuelo – strict disciplinarian – had cracked one of her polished witticisms, extremely funny but never over the heads of the children.

Main Street just after the war

When Gibraltarians returned in 1944 their families had grown and there was a severe housing shortage. All available property was requisitioned for use as temporary housing for the population, which now also included those Gibraltarians who had been living in Spain before the Spanish Civil War and the Spaniards who had fled Franco’s troops and established themselves in Gibraltar. 
As a result of the shortage of living accommodation the Convent Place premises were for the moment being used to house some of these families. Loreto High School, temporarily accommodated in Europa, now became the Girls’ Grammar School and owed its new character to the implementation in Gibraltar of the 1944 Education Act, the introduction of the 11+ examinations and selective education.  The Log Book of the new Loreto High School begins thus in 1946:
School commenced on January 1st for the senior girls in what was now a Government school, housed in Our Lady of Europa Convent. 138 girls were admitted into 5 Forms (V, IV, III, II, and II Par). All had passed the Entrance Test, and 64 had attended for some months the Gibraltar Grammar School at Plata Villa. School work was carried on under difficulties for two terms as there were masons, carpenters and painters at work on the passages and even inside the classrooms. For some weeks the Assembly Hall could not be used. Owing to bomb damage it had to be partly re-roofed. The ceiling of the main corridor collapsed and this entailed much inconvenience for several weeks.     

The Naval Trust - the most popular cinema on the Rock just after the war - it burn't down to the ground in 1948

The following summer seven girls from “Loreto High” entered for the School Certificate examination—six were successful. There were many ‘Credits’ for individual subjects. Mother Peter Claver came back as Superior to what was now one Community of nuns where there had been two before the War. A private school on the same premises was opened during the following year. 

In August 1947 Mother Hildegarde Stamp and Mother Paula McCorry arrived on the “Ascania”; they were accompanied by Mother Francis Gerard Pierse who was returning from official business in Ireland. Mother Francis Gerard was the Head Teacher of Loreto High School, so she was able to tell the newcomers all about Gibraltar. Brother Foley, Headmaster of the boy’s Grammar School was also on board. Mother Hildegarde Stamp, Froebel trained, was to be the Principal of the Junior School which had just re-opened in Europa sharing the premises with Loreto High School and the Community of 12 nuns. . . .
At first conditions were cramped at Europa, especially for the nuns. Most of the Sisters were sleeping in dormitory accommodation. The Army had just moved out before the nuns arrived back in 1945. When things got easier Mother Paula found herself in her own little ‘cell’, and showing up through the superficial green Army paint on the inside of the door was the name of a previous occupant: “Sergeant Armstrong”. On the wooden floor of the Community Room the nuns could see the tracks of the beer barrels the soldiers had used. 

“I had an easy introduction”, says Mother Paula, “because I used to substitute for teachers who were absent. At that time the academic year began after Christmas, and that’s when I got my first Form II. My first prefect was Mariluz Beiso. I remember Jessie, whose father was the fireman who was killed in the Bedenham Explosion.

Mother Dympna had the first classroom on the little black and white passage.  Mother Francis Gerard had the top class and she took them for English. She was their Form Teacher. I remember that Mother Consuelo had the Fourth Years, the class just before the School Certificate class”. 

Naval Ground No.2 - Used for various sporting activities by most schools

. . . Mother Paula has an evocative story of her first introduction to Gibraltarian-ism. During a visit to Tangier with Mother Hildegarde Galbally the latter was recognised in the street by one of her Gibraltarian pupils. They flew into each other’s arms and there followed a kissing and hugging the likes of which Mother Paula had never seen before. She looked on at what appeared to her an explosion of affection. . .