The People of Gibraltar

1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 29. Comprehensive and “Private” School
Sister Aoife Hynes and Bishop Edward Rapallo - Lallie Canessa
Mother Dympna Crowley and Mother Maria Goretti (Berna Fahy)

An impressive Rock of Gibraltar

The Comprehensive system of education was introduced in Gibraltar in 1972. Loreto High School remained at Convent Place until it was gradually phased out as the older children reached school-leaving age. The building continued to be used, together with buildings in Town Range and Mackintosh Hall, to accommodate St Margaret’s and St Joseph’s Secondary Schools and the Commercial School (St David’s). 

These schools amalgamated to become the new Girls’ Comprehensive, subsequently named “Westside”. Sister Aoife Hynes, who had been Deputy Head at Loreto High School in Convent Place, now became the first Head of the Girls’ Comprehensive school until 1981, when the new purpose-built school was ready for occupation. As the new school building at Westside was not ready the First Year Comprehensive girls were accommodated in Mackintosh Hall. 

The Grammar School classes from 2nd to 5th Year remained at Convent Place, the 6th Year moved to 27 Town Range, and the children from the other amalgamating schools (St Margaret’s, St Joseph’s and St David’s Commercial School, most of whose teachers and Heads were past pupils of Loreto) continued at two sites in Town Range, and at Mackintosh Hall. 

During the summer of 1973 Monsignor Rapall was appointed Bishop of Gibraltar, Bishop Healy having died the previous March.  Just before they moved to their new school building the pupils and staff named the new school “Westside Comprehensive”. The complete staff numbered about sixty-four. Several Loreto Sisters remained on the staff from 1981 until 1989 when Loreto withdrew from the Comprehensive, partly through “lack of personnel at source” but also because over the years Loreto had laid the foundations that equipped many girls to pursue Higher Education at Universities and Training Colleges in the UK. 

Since World War II these Graduates and Qualified Teachers had been increasingly taking over positions of responsibility in the schools as well as other professional situations in Gibraltar and Loreto’s work was nearly done. Sister Aoife resigned in 1981 and returned to Ireland, and the first lay Head, Lallie Canessa – herself a past pupil of Loreto – was appointed. 
When the girls moved out of Convent Place and into their new school on Queensway, the old Convent Place building was refurbished for use as Government Offices including the Office of the Chief Minister. There is a plaque on the wall by the main entrance commemorating its use by the Loreto nuns and their schools between 1925 and 1982. It reads:      
This building was used by the Board of Sanitary Commissioners and their successors, the City Council from 1870 to 1924. Between 1925 and 1982 it was used as a school by the Loreto Nuns who won the love and esteem of the people of Gibraltar         
Mother Dympna Crowley died in Ireland in 1986 having spent seventy years in complete dedication to the people of Gibraltar. She had arrived as a young Sister; by her 20th birthday she was already on the Rock. There are still many of her ex-pupils in Gibraltar, now in their eighties and nineties who remember her well when she first arrived. Through the years she taught several generations of Gibraltarians and knew every complicated family connection. She never got a name wrong. Mother Dympna was awarded the MBE on February 18th 1977. . .
In 1995 a special Mass was said at the Cathedral to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Loreto nuns in Gibraltar. Past and present pupils attended. Later a reception was held at the Catholic Community Centre. Since then Loreto has continued to maintain its “Private” school at Europa. Parents and teachers did everything possible to enable this very successful school to continue as a viable proposition. 

The Loreto Sisters are still on the Rock in 2005. Of the present community of five one has been teaching full time at Loreto Europa, some have been teaching there part-time and have been involved in various local parish activities: prayer groups, choir, preparing children for First Communion, helping to run the soup kitchen at the old “St Mary’s” site on Hospital Hill and keeping in close touch with friends of long standing and with past pupils of all the schools.                                                                          

This year Loreto will celebrate 160 years of continuous involvement with education in Gibraltar. Mother Maria Goretti – now known by her baptismal name, Berna Fahy – is still very much involved with Loreto’s continuing work and presence in Gibraltar. And Gibraltar itself today, would it still be recognisable to the pioneers of 1845? 

Gibraltar in the mid 19th century

A tourist sums us up: 

Gibraltar in the rain was a fitting end to our bike journey. It is a quirky place; mixture of Spanish, English, Moroccan, Indian and other cultures with a British high street and busloads of English holidayers from the Costa del Sol getting a fix of pub grub. 

Gibraltar in the early 21st century