On Saturday 10th July, Bishop Terence Drainey, Parish Priest – Fr Jim O’Brien, Fr Paul Roche CM, diocesan clergy, Marist Fathers, members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, parishioners, colleagues, and friends of the Sisters gathered with 12 Daughters of Charity in St Vincent’s Church, Queens Road. Over the span of 131 years, the Daughters have lived and worked in Hull serving the people in various ministries within the parishes of St Charles, St Vincent’s, West Hull, East Hull, and Bransholme. Despite COVID restrictions, the liturgy of the Mass was incredibly beautiful. In his homily, the Bishop thanked the Sisters for their work in Hull, and indeed throughout the diocese of Middlesbrough, reminding them of Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “ You did not choose me, no I chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit.” In the life of the Sisters, these words have of Jesus have been realized. Sr Ellen Flynn, Provincial, traced the history of the Sisters in Hull from the beginnings in 1890 right up to the present day. She thanked both priests and people for their collaborative support and reassured everyone of the Sister’s prayerful support as they continue together on the journey of life in Hull as witnesses to the Kingdom.
Talk given by Sister Ellen Flynn
on the occasion of the withdrawal of the Daughters of Charity from Hull
at a Thanksgiving Mass in St Vincent’s, Hull
July 10th 2021
On 3rd November 1889, Canon Sullivan, then the Parish Priest of St Charles’ Hull, following some previous contact with the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, wrote to Bishop Richard Lacey of Middlesbrough about the possibility of starting up a Boys’ Home in Hull. Subsequently, the Bishop wrote to the Daughters of Charity, saying that he was “pleased beyond measure to learn from Canon Sullivan the prospect of their much valued service for Hull where there was an immense field for works of charity, the most pressing works being a Home for orphan boys, and secondly, a night refuge, such as has been established at Leeds with marked success.”[i] Bishop Lacey had already experienced the work of the Sisters in York three years earlier than this. A lot of discussion then took place until finally, on 24th March 1890, Bishop Richard wrote to the DCs saying that he was “delighted to know that at last the Sisters will soon be working in Hull.”[ii] The first house of the Sisters was opened in Wright Street to which was attached a Home for thirty boys. The Bishop himself opened the orphanage and welcomed the Sisters on July 19th 1890 (feast of St V de P).
Not long after that in a letter of 22nd May 1891, Canon Sullivan asked for a Sister to visit in his Parish. I quote: “we consider that in our Mission of St Charles, we have 10,000 Catholics and only 3 priests and the Bishop cannot give us another priest!! …please send me a suitable Sister for this work. I will only ask her to work about 8 streets – all together, close to the Boys’ Home, with about 5,000 Catholics.”[iii]
The years went by, and the work flourished and in time the Boys’ Home in Wright Street became too small, and Canon Sullivan set about raising funds for a purpose-built home. However, he sadly never saw the completion of the home as he died suddenly on 4th April 1900. We read in the obituary of The Tablet in 1900 that, apart from the establishment of the boys’ home ‘the works by which he will be longest remembered are the erection of St Gregory’s School in Scott Street and St Wilfred’s Church and schools – St Wilfrid’s, of course, being the Presbytery in which the Sisters have been living most recently. How things come full circle!
Eventually, the Home in Wright Street was transferred to the new premises named St Vincent’s in Queen’s Road in 1909. The house in Wright Street remained as a Working Boys’ Home, but changed its name to St Joseph’s. This finally closed in 1941 during the Second World War.
Over the years Sisters have served in many different ways in various parishes and locations in Hull and in the diocese.
Bishop Lacy went on to invite the Sisters to work in the city of Middlesbrough and a community was established in West Street, near the Cathedral on 16th April 1906. As the years progressed, a Sister became Headmistress of the Sacred Heart Primary School and Sisters visited in four parishes, namely: The Cathedral, Sacred Heart, St Patrick’s and St Francis, and as well as doing parish and hospital visiting. The Sisters closed the house on 28th June 1988. Between 1920 and 2003 there were also houses and ministries in Grangetown and Redcar.
By 1970, St Vincent’s Home was closed due to the state of the building and also the change in child care provision to smaller group homes. The Crusade of Rescue purchased two houses for the children and as a result the Sisters bought a house nearby at 41 Westbourne Avenue where they lived from 1971 until 1992, working in close collaboration for many years with Father Michael Whyte.[iv]
Sadly, the time came for the Sisters to move from Westbourne Avenue as a result of extensive building work undertaken by the local Council due to subsidence in that area. Research was done by the Sisters, again supported by Father Whyte and after consultation with Bishop O’Brien the Sisters moved to Bransholme in 1993 where they undertook pastoral ministries and visiting in the parish of St Mary, Queen of Martyrs.[v]
After serving the Parish and people of the area of Bransholme for 14 years, the Sisters moved from this part of Hull to be part of a new diocesan Mission and Evangelisation team. It was then that they moved into St Wilfrid’s’. Finally, in 2014, a group of Sisters was missioned to St Stephen’s parish when the Congregation of Jesus withdrew, partly to meet the social and other needs of people in the Greatfield area and partly to form an evangelisation team with the Sisters at St Wilfrid’s and with clergy in the area.[vi]
Over the years six women from Hull have joined the community of the Daughters of Charity. Three members of the Harrison family who lived in St. Charles’ parish, entered before the war, along with Miss Ada Walsh who became Sr. Agnes. Sr Agnes Walsh served in England, Ireland and Jerusalem before she found herself in Paris when the Second World War broke out. She remained in Nazi occupied France and drawing on her experience in Jerusalem she saved the lives of five members of a Jewish family by giving them sanctuary in the Sisters’ house in Cadouin. She was awarded the highest honour of the state of Israel. Sister Agnes was honoured as a Righteous Among the Gentiles in 1990. She is one of only 21 Britons to be recognised as such and to have her name inscribed on the memorial at Yad Vashem. Israel’s Holocaust remembrance centre. She died in 1993. Her heroism was overlooked in Britain until Hull awarded her a Blue Plaque in 2010 the ceremony of which we had the honour to attend. The plaque, unveiled by Hull’s Lord Mayor, describes her as a “nun and humanitarian who protected Jews during the Holocaust.” It is displayed on the site of the house where she grew up – on Lowgate, opposite the Guildhall, where Hull’s council operates. Ian Judson, Sister Agnes’s great-nephew who still lives in Hull said it was nice to see her being recognised in her home town at last. “It’s long overdue considering what she did,” he said.
In 1939, Miss Catherine Fowlston left her home on Newland Avenue, just round the corner from here near Ella Street, to become a Sister. Her whole family had strong connections with St. Vincent’s parish. Catherine served as a nurse for many years. She died in St. Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds in 1987, just two years short of her golden jubilee.
All these Sisters are fondly remembered by our own Sister Marie Raw, here with us today and who was our Provincial when Sr Agnes was honoured by the City of Hull. Born and bred in Hull herself Sr Marie has many personal and colourful memories of much of the history of the Sisters in Hull. It’s worth a chat with her if you would like more!!
And now to the present. In St Wilfrid’s and St Stephen’s we have held on to Sisters Eleanor, Ann, Teresa and Susan for as long as possible. There are other Sisters here today who have served here in the past. They have rested on the shoulders of all those Sisters who have gone before them in the diocese. In all these 130 plus years, anything that has been done will have been in collaboration with each other, all of us, people, Bishops, Priests, Sisters. Through these years there will have been times of grief, hardship and suffering as well as times of joy and celebration. In times like those we build community together and we minister to each other in inclusivity and friendship.
So today, whilst I thank and pay tribute to all the Sisters who have lived and worked here I want mostly to pay tribute to you and your ancestors, your families, the people of Hull with whom our Sisters have been in relationship for so many years. I want to give thanks to God for you and for all that we have done together and all we have been to each other in this diocese.
I give thanks for the Vincentian Family and particularly the St Vincent de Paul Society with whom I know we have collaborated over the years. I give thanks for all the Bishops of this diocese and in particular tonight for Bishop Terry for being with us. I give thanks for all the Priests with whom we have tried to be good parishioners and evangelisers and in particular Father Ivan of St. Wilfrid’s, Canon John of Sacred Heart and St Bede’s, and Father Jim of this parish, all of whom have given us unstinted support and encouragement. Thank you to all of you here in the parish for all you have done to make this Mass so special.
I am especially grateful to the Lord Mayor, Councilor Lynn Petrini, who gave permission for us to create another Blue Plaque. I understand that the Sisters enjoyed afternoon tea with her recently. They told me of the support of Councilors Brabazon and Singh, Ward Councilors and Mr. Philip Hempel, Principal Conservation Officer at Hull City Council, who guided them through the application process and whose advice was invaluable. The financial support of the Parishes of Hull, Cottingham and Beverley enabled us to purchase the Blue Plaque. We owe this initiative to the generosity of Chris Cuthill, SVP District President whose idea it was and who worked so hard to achieve it. Thank you! We are honoured that Councilor Singh is with us today and will officiate at the end of Mass when Bishop Terry will bless the plaque.
Finally, if you are sad to see the Sisters go, then I invite you to work and pray for vocations. We don’t have enough Sisters. That is the single and only reason we have to leave Hull, the diocese of Middlesbrough and our last house in the North East of England. We go with sadness even though we trust in God’s plans for us and for you. We leave you with love and with gratitude. Through the relationships of those who have gone before us we will remain part of your story for ever, and you of ours. Please pray for Sisters Eleanor, Teresa, Susan and Ann as they prepare to leave Hull this week.
Today gives us the welcome opportunity of a moment to pause, to bring to mind all those who have been part of our story here – Priests, Sisters and you our parishioners and co-workers – to honour you, to pray for you and above all to give God thanks.
It gives me the opportunity to ask you to take good care of those in need among you in this city we will always hold so dear.
We promise you our continued gratitude and prayers in the months and years ahead.
I want to finish with some words of St Paul:
‘If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind.’
Today I want to translate that piece of scripture into my own message for you:
If we, the Daughters of Charity, have meant anything to you at all, if we have witnessed in any way to our charism, we pray that you will continue to love and support each other, particularly those who are in any kind of suffering, standing shoulder to shoulder in the parishes, in your workplaces and in your families. In all aspects of your lives we wish you the love and peace of Jesus. May Mary, the mother of Jesus, protect you always. Amen.
Sister Ellen Flynn DC
July 10th 2021
[i] Archives 11-33-1 1-1 #2
[ii] Archives 11-33-1 1-1 #5
[iv] Archives 11-33-3 1-4 #4b
[v] Leaving God for God, Gazetteer p417
[vi] Leaving God for God, Gazetteer p417
Blessing of the Commemorative Blue Plaque
After Mass, the Sisters, priests, and people gathered outside at the front of the church beneath the Commemorative Blue Plaque. This had been erected by Hull City Council to honour the memory of the Sister’s 131 years of service. The plaque was blessed by Bishop Terence and Councillor Abhimanyu Singh who spoke of the unselfish work of the Sisters as the highest form of love and graciously gave thanks to them on behalf of all the people.
BBQ in the Garden of St Joseph’s
The original plans for the day included a sit-down afternoon tea for all in St Vincent’s School Hall. However, because of COVID restrictions, these plans had to be abandoned and the West Hull Parish Priest, Fr Ivan Dawson, came to the rescue putting on a wonderful mid-afternoon BBQ on the grounds of St Joseph’s Church. A wonderful meal for the Sisters and clergy.
Sunday Mass at St Wilfrid’s, Hessle Road
The next day brought further celebrations at the 9 am Sunday Mass in St Wilfrid’s Church – the parish of Sisters Ann and Eleanor. This is a multi-cultural parish and Fr Ivan had invited his parishioners to turn up dressed in their national costumes. The Gospel that day was from St Mark in which Jesus missions his disciples to go out wearing their SANDALS: Sandals which protect the feet and can be easily slipped off when entering the sacred space of a person’s home. Many years ago, Jesus called the Sisters to put on their sandals and come to Hull and enter the homes of the people. Now he calls them to other places. The parish has been blessed by having Sisters as travelling companions on its journey so far. At the end of Mass after receiving Holy Communion, Sr Ellen spoke to the parishioners and gave them thanks for being part of our journey too. The only reason The Daughters of Charity are leaving Hull is lack of Vocations. She encouraged the people to pray for Vocations. If they do, who knows what could happen? One day the Sisters may come back to Hull. Meantime we should pray for each other and ALL OF US put on our sandals and go wherever the Lord sends us and do whatever he asks of us.