In January 1852 the Faithful Companions of Jesus opened a convent in a small house in Hampton Street, Birkenhead as a day school for young ladies. This later developed into a boarding school. Due to an increase in the number of the scholars in 1854 the school was moved to Hamilton Square and two years later another move was made to a large house called ‘Tranmere Hall’, acquired at Holt Hill, the schools final resting place.
For several years the school continued to be run as a boarding school for young ladies. In 1856 a small day - school was opened in addition to the boarding school, but the schools were kept separate until a large new building was erected. The 1910 Directory for Liverpool and Shrewsbury gives the following statistics :
50 nuns
50 boarders
100 day pupils
In order to provide more accommodation for the day school the intake of boarders was discontinued and the boarding school was closed in 1932.
The Sisters also taught in St. Werburgh’s parish schools from 1852-1867. In 1892 they took over St. Laurence’s schools, taught in the night-school and the Sunday School.
During the early years of St. Joseph’s Mission before the building of the church, the Chaplain to the Convent undertook services for the mission in the convent chapel. The first recorded Baptism of the parish was recorded as taking place in Holt Hill Convent Chapel in 1898.
As a consequence of the New Education Act 1944 Holt Hill was recognised as a direct grant grammar school, and many parishioners of St. Joseph’s will have fond memories of their school years, both in the mixed Prep school and later as ‘young ladies’ in the senior school. The school regime was strict but fair and as a consequence the final ‘product’ had excellent employment opportunities with local employers.
With the re-organisation of the local schools Holt Hill joined with St. Winifred’s School and became jointly known as Heathley High School, a comprehensive school for girls. For some time the school had to operate on two sites until in 1981 the school moved to Noctorum High School on the Woodchurch Estate. It was at this time that the FCJ Sisters finally ceased any connection with the school.
The last mass in Holt Hill prior to the Convent being demolished to make way for a housing estate, was celebrated on 27th June 1982. In July the FCJ Nuns donated to St. Joseph’s parish the beautiful large Crucifix which had hung in the marbled chapel of Holt Hill. This can now be seen suspended above the High Altar, and will always be a reminder of the close links between the parish and the convent. (The stained glass windows also from the Convent Chapel adorn St. Pauls on the Ford Estate.) In 1982 the buildings were finally demolished.
In 1977 the FCJ Community moved to Heathbank Road and six sisters continue to work in the parish today. Ministries include Teaching, Chaplaincy, Parish Work, Retreats and Spiritual Direction.
Mention must also be made of the Irish Sisters of Charity who have worked and assisted in the parish for many years, with particular involvement with the Guild of St. Agnes and The Children of Mary.
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