Sisters of Charity Say Goodbye to Hallam

At a Mass of Thanksgiving and Farewell at Mother of God Church, Sheffield on 16 September, Sr Marie Raw, Provincial of the Daughters of Charity in Britain, Sr Ann Buckeridge who grew up in Sheffield and Sr Paula Sheehan who ministered in Sheffield, presented a reflection on the presence and service of the Sisters in Sheffield over the last 156 years.

“Howard Hill is a familiar name and place for many of us gathered here today.  For more than one hundred years, from 1861 until 1974, we, Daughters of Charity, lived in St Joseph’s, Howard Hill and from there carried out parish visiting and other forms of pastoral work in the city and the surrounding areas covered by St Vincent’s parish.  We taught in the two schools in the parish and in St Joseph’s Home nursed and cared for almost 100 women and girls, some of whom were quite young children, with learning disability and often with accompanying severe physical disability.

Our chapel at St Joseph’s was a large one and, being high up, quite a landmark in the area.  It served as a chapel of ease for St Vincent’s parish, with at least two Masses every Sunday.  Some of you might also remember Sunday Benediction and the nightly Devotions in October.

Howard Hill was not the first place where the Sisters lived in Sheffield, but the name ‘Howard’, being the family name of the Duke of Norfolk, has other and strong connections with the arrival and development of the Daughters’ presence in this city.

In 1847 the first Daughters of Charity arrived in England, to a frosty and unwelcome reception – not in Sheffield I hasten to add!  Being French and ‘Papists’, they were regarded with fear and suspicion and subjected to such unpleasant treatment that after a year or so, their Superiors recalled them to France.  Ten years later, in 1857, another batch of Daughters arrived – this time to Sheffield – and this time they stayed!  This afternoon we would like to pay a short tribute to the Sisters and the people of Sheffield who have shared their faith, their lives and in many cases, their deaths, during these past 156 years.  Sr Ann, who has prepared this tribute, is a native of Sheffield and Sr Paula lived in this parish, in St Ronan’s Road, and played a key role in the establishment of the Furniture Store.

In 1853 the Vincentian Fathers came to Sheffield.  On seeing the amount of poverty and suffering in the city, the local Superior, Fr Burke, asked for the help of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.  He found a house for them to rent, and in 1857 the Superiors in Paris sent four Sisters.  The house they went to was 151 Solly Street.  They started evening classes for girls; and over 200 attended these.  The Sisters visited families, the sick, the hospitals and the workhouses.  The Duke of Norfolk, who was living in Sheffield at the time, paid the rent for the Sisters’ house and his wife and daughters supported the Sisters in their work for those who were poor.

From 151 Solly Street the Sisters moved to number 222, a bigger house bought for them by Fr Burke in 1864, by which time they had begun to teach in St Vincent’s parish school and there were more Sisters.

Though in 1878 the Sisters did move to another house in Red Hill quite close by, later on in 1913 some Sisters took up residence again at 222 Solly Street, this time to take care of the boys in the Hostel there.  They served in the Boys Hostel until 1925.

The move to the house on the corner of Red Hill and Broad Lane took place in 1878.  This house had been the Vincentian presbytery; the priests had moved into the new presbytery in Solly Street, which the Duke of Norfolk had had built for them.  From 1925 to 1938 the Sisters had a Hostel for young servant girls in Red Hill, and a training school for pupil teachers.  It was during the early years of development of works for those in need around the area of St Vincent’s Church in Solly Street that the establishment of the second foundation of the Daughters of Charity in Sheffield took place.

In 1861 the Community responded to the request to start a Catholic Reformatory School for girls, with the proviso that a building would be provided.  A building in Howard Hill which had been a private school for young gentlemen, and the two acres of land in which it stood, were purchased by the Reformatory School Committee.  By 1864 more buildings had been erected and St Joseph’s Home Howard Hill could accommodate 100 girls.  It served the six northern dioceses of Beverley, Liverpool, Salford, Nottingham, Shrewsbury and Hexham.  The Duke of Norfolk contributed to the building of the chapel which was opened in 1872.  In 1886 the Reformatory School work was moved to Blackbrook in St Helen’s, Merseyside and St Joseph’s became an Industrial School in 1887.  This remained until 1932.

The Sisters had started a day school for local Catholic children in 1872 in one room of the House.  By 1885 two larger rooms were being used and it was certified as an Elementary School.  Eventually a site on the opposite side of the road was purchased for the building of St Joseph’s School which opened in 1889.

Catholics and others living in Sheffield know of Kirk Edge as a moor-like area on the outskirts of the city, where there is a Carmelite Convent, but originally it was where the Daughters of Charity built a Reformatory for boys in 1871.  However, there were too many problems attached to living in such a far out area and, in 1877, the remaining Sisters and children were transferred to Howard Hill.  It was a number of years later, in 1911, that the Carmelites at the suggestion of the Duke of Norfolk, who had a sister in the Order, took over the site.

In 1870 Mgr de Hearne, Canon of Bruges who was well known on the continent for his work for the deaf, started a school for deaf children in Handsworth, Sheffield.  It was, and still is, the only Catholic School for Deaf Children in England.  The following year it was put under the direction of the Daughters of Charity.  The work developed and moved to Boston Spa in 1875 where, under the patronage of St John of Beverley, it continues to thrive.

In 1935, three years after the closure of the Industrial School, the Daughters of Charity in Howard Hill began their nursing and caring for those with learning disabilities.  After another three years, in 1938, due to a compulsory purchase by the City Council, the House in Red Hill had to be closed.  Without ceasing their work in the area of St Vincent’s Parish and School in Solly Street, the Sisters went to live with and join the Community at St Joseph’s Howard Hill.  There the Community of the Daughters of Charity remained until the taking over of the Hospital by the Health Authorities in 1974.

St Joseph’s Chapel continued to be used as one of the churches in St Vincent’s parish until the opening of the new St Vincent’s church in 2001.

Recent Developments

From Howard Hill the Sisters, by now a much smaller Community, moved to 31 Ashdell Road, just outside St Vincent’s parish.  They continued their pastoral and teaching work, and outreach work with the travellers’ families was developed.  For a time a Sister worked as a Social Worker in Western Park Hospital.  In 1981 St Joseph’s School amalgamated with St Vincent’s School.  The school closed altogether in 1989.

With the prospect of supporting a project for the homeless, the Community undertook yet another move and in 1989 came to 43 St Ronan’s Road here in the Mother of God parish.  By 1991 the St Wilfrid’s Drop-in Centre, founded by Mgr Kilgannon, was ready for opening.