St. Joseph's Convent, Newport, Mon.

Photo reference number: 1580

Numbers 81 to 89 Stow Hill - near the top, on the left going up. Nowadays the road level has been lowered resulting in the pavement being elevated. The premises was also a boarding and day school.

Below is some information about the Sisters of Saint Joseph and their involvement in education in Newport from the book 'Birth of a School' by J. Alan Shewring, published by APECS Press:


The founding of the Congregation

The Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in 1650, at Le Puy, France. A Jesuit priest, Father Medaille, grouped together a small band of women who wished to dedicate their lives to God in the service of the poor. They themselves had no money to enable them to enter an established Order where a dowry was necessary. Father Medaille's 'Little Design', as he called it, offered them the means of fulfilling their deep desires. He wrote rules for them, proposed St. Joseph as their patron and called them 'Daughters of St. Joseph'. Father Medaille broke through barriers by establishing a Congregation in which the members would be contemplatives in action, going out to help all those most in need.

The Congregation grew rapidly but had a chequered history during the French Revolution and the years immediately following. However, after the dispersal of the Sisters during the years of the Revolution, they were re-grouped and established once again in various parts of France, taking the name of the diocese in which their main house was established. With the foundations in Annecy, the Sisters became officially known as Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy in 1833.

The English Mission

The Congregation spread, and their first mission in India was established in 1849. From there, due to the initiative and generosity of an officer in the British Army, the Sisters came to England in 1864 and settled in Devizes, Wiltshire, supporting the work of the two priests there. Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, with whom the Sisters had worked in India. The first three Sisters comprised: Sister Athanase Novel (French), Sister Stanislaus Bryan (whose father was an Irish soldier in India), and Sister Josephine Twomey who had been teaching in Chippenham before entering with the Sisters at Annecy. Beginnings were hard. Local hostility which extended even to stoning the Sisters as they went about their work of serving the poor, offering education to the children, and generally trying to meet the needs of the most neglected, did not deter their determination to persevere in this new mission.

A large house had been purchased to accommodate two priests who were setting up a Mass Centre in a disused warehouse in the town. But the priests moved out to allow the Sisters to live there and open a small school. Despite these extremely hard beginnings the English mission flourished and expanded. The expansion came about by developments in education in England and Wales. Due to the provisions of the Education Act 1870, it was deemed necessary by Catholic Authorities to establish Catholic schools in which religion could be taught. State Schools, previously known as Board Schools, which were maintained through the rates, were not allowed to teach religion. Denominational schools could receive limited assistance from central government and retain the right to teach religion. These schools were called Voluntary Aided Schools.

In 1873 the Sisters were invited to Newport by Father Michael Bailey, a Rosminian priest, who had heard of the Sisters from his own sister, a Visitation nun in Westbury. This led to the establishment of the English Province in 1882.

Involvement in education in Newport

At the time that the 1870 Act came into force there were two schools at St. Mary's, Newport: a boys' school where a Rosminian brother, Brother George Clarkson taught and was Headmaster, and a girls' school where three Sisters of Providence taught. It was decided, that in order to comply with the Act, the two schools would have to amalgamate. However, Brother George was getting on in years, and the Sisters of Providence were debarred, by their Rule, from teaching boys.
In 1871 there were over a thousand Catholic children in Newport and so a school was built in St. Michael's Parish to alleviate the problem of over-crowding. The School Managers, who were the parish priests, paid the teachers' salaries which were 'what the priest could afford'. Moreover, the Managers had to provide furniture and books. Although parental contributions were requested, they were not always forthcoming. The problem was serious, and teachers did not want to come to Newport because of the difficult conditions.

Father Bailey, who at that time was a curate at St. Mary's, heard through his sister of the good work the Devizes Sisters were doing at Westbury. He visited the Sisters at Devizes and suggested that Newport was the opportunity the Sisters were looking for. He was delighted when Mother Athanase wrote to say she was really interested. He immediately approached his parish priest, Father Cavalli, to agree to the Sisters coming to Newport. A house, at 89 Stow Hill came on to the market in 1873, and Mother Athanase purchased it for 1,600. This property eventually became the Provincial House and also housed the Convent School. But since this house would not become vacant for eighteen months, the Sisters lodged initially with a Mrs. Cappella in Commercial Street, at the place where Marks and Spencer now stands (in 2005).

The Sisters of Providence had held their classes in the Institute, the building next to St. Mary's, Stow Hill, before withdrawing from the school in 1873. Meanwhile, the Sisters of St. Joseph had moved to Newport, leaving only two Sisters and a postulant in Devizes. The school in the Institute occupied the ground floor, with some of the Sisters being lodged on the upper floor. So began the long association of the Sisters of St. Joseph with St. Mary's, to the benefit of generations of children. Eventually, the Sisters were able to occupy 89 Stow Hill and the convent vacated by the Sisters of Providence became St. Mary's Presbytery, which it is to this day. In 1875, the Sisters of St. Joseph withdrew from Westbury to make Newport the centre of the English Province.

By the end of the Second World War, accommodation at Stow Hill had expanded with the acquisition of new buildings. Nevertheless, it had become too crowded, housing a large community of Sisters and a boarding and day school for girls. It was necessary, therefore, to look for other premises. In 1946, Llantarnam Abbey came on the market, and despite its dilapidated state, the Sisters bought it and set about renovating it. It became, and is, the Provincial House, providing accommodation for a fairly large community, which, at that time, included about twelve Sisters who were teaching in the primary schools in Newport.

The next step came when, in spite of the move to Llantarnam Abbey, space in the school on Stow Hill became a problem yet again and it seemed that the secondary sector of the school should be separated from the primary sector. Search for other premises started and when Tredegar House came on the market, the Sisters bought it in 1951. For one year, before the actual transfer of the school, a few Sisters lived there and gradually prepared the house for its future use. The Senior School took up residence there in September 1952, and developed into a flourishing boarding and day school. It remained as such until the Comprehensive School was established in 1967.

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Another photo of the convent