Times Past at St Augustine’s Priory
Remembering the nuns
We celebrated our wonderful One Hundred Years of Faith Mass here last week with H.E. Cardinal Vincent Nichols at which so many members of our community were present: pupils, staff, parents and many past pupils including Mrs Barbara Murray (née Creamer) who attended St Augustine’s Priory between 1928 and 1939 and Mrs Pauline Kay (née Dimmock) who remembered having her lessons while sheltering in the school’s cellars during the Second World War. We took joy in our present, while also remembering the past and looking to the future.
Priyanka Balakrishnan, Lower V Alpha, our Creative Writing Prefect, has written a tribute to the community of women who founded this school nearly 400 years ago, brought it over from France in 1911 and settled their convent and school into our current buildings in September 1915 – the Augustinian Canonesses Regular of the Lateran.
‘As we draw towards the end of a remarkable term, it is important to reflect. Not just reflect on the present and the future of our school, but also on the past. With our days consisting of such a wide range of opportunities, we often dismiss the foundation, the roots from where St Augustine’s Priory has grown. Although our school has developed and thrived over the years, it has a history which is still beautifully present today.
Once upon a time, the halls of our school were filled with nuns and girls. The nuns would spring up bright and early and begin their duty of teaching the girls. They brought their pupils the gift of not only learning to love, but the priceless gift of wisdom… something which is still present today. Apart from the lessons in the classrooms, the nuns would also participate in recreation outside of the classroom. From the Music Room now one can hear echoes of an orchestra flowing through the whole school and it now holds a grand piano and musical equipment. But it used to be the religious community’s recreation room, filled in the evenings with groups of nuns chattering away about the news, reading and sewing. The nuns would play tennis and tend the gardens, just as the girls do now. They ate their meals in the Nuns’ Refectory, where girls were not allowed. Although the nuns are not physically present with us today we, as sisters, have eaten and will continue to eat in the place where they took their sustenance.
School assemblies were held in the Hall with Reverend Mother leading the hymns and prayers and then reading an inspirational story to the children. Mass was celebrated every week for the pupils, as it is now. However, a daily Mass would be celebrated early every morning for the nuns, where the presence of God would grace them all. Also, after school every Wednesday, the service of Benediction would take place in the Chapel for the school. In addition to the services held in the Chapel, the nuns would gather in the Chapter Room every week and share with each other the times when they had hesitated or faltered in their journey to God. The nuns today give us hope in their disclosures, still sealed within the Chapter Room.
Our school today is evidently different to that of the days of the nuns. It has not only grown hugely in numbers, but it has modernised and flourished into something which represents not only love and education but also truth. We, as a school, today stay wholeheartedly true to our values; we retain the history, tradition and the faith of all the women who went before us.’
Priyanka’s article is timely as we remember Mother Mary Michael (Sr. Josephine Jenkins) one of the few remaining sisters of this House who died shortly before the visit of the Cardinal. May she rest in peace.Faith Life Whole School