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The Beginnings...


In May, 1840, St. Mary Euphrasia sent Sr. M. of the Angels Levoyer and Aimee of Jesus, a lay associate – to London to explore the situation. They came back rather disheartened as there were no funds on offer to start a foundation, but they brought six English postulants - to be joined shortly after by six more!! They had also made some useful contacts, including the Marchioness of Wellesley, the Vicar Apostolic – Mgr. Griffiths, and a certain Abbe Voyaux, a French priest who promised help.   

England was seen as a Protestant country and there was much anxiety among the French Sisters, that a new religious community would be unacceptable but Catholic Emancipation had been enacted in 1829 and the famous Oxford Movement under John Henry Newman was in full swing. Many of the old Catholic aristocratic families (the 'Recusants' as they were called) welcomed the religious orders. There was plenty of prejudice around but it was in fact a good time for St. Mary Euphrasia to break into this mission. The 'recusant' families – the Stonors. the Welds, the Petres, the Blundells among others - provided a number of  vocations in the following years to the Good Shepherd - thanks in part to the able 'networking' of Mother Joseph Regaudiat, the first prioress, who arrived in London in November 1840.

1841 Hammersmith

Mother Regaudiat and her assistant, Mary Celeste Fisson, lost no time in contacting the benefactors – starting with Abbe Voyaux only to find he had died the day before their arrival! They contacted Mgr. Griffiths who set them up temporarily with the Benedictine Sisters in Hammersmith while they looked for a suitable house. number, A house was found in King St. Hammersmith, in May, 1841.

London was a large and bustling metropolis and there were numerous women and girls who were victims of the social upheavals caused by the industrial revolution and in need of the kind of shelter and support that the Sisters offered.

Most of the women who came to the Good Shepherd wished to reform their lives and were people of faith who were able to profit by the opportunity for prayer and direction.  In France these women were known as 'penitents' but in time they were affectionately known as 'the children' – no matter what age!   Later the Sisters accepted the care of girls and women in need of rehabilitation and protection – at the request of local magistrates, – to avoid incarceration in the State penal institutions - often for very minor offences.

There was no such thing as a Welfare State or National Health Service in those days so both the Sisters and the girls had to earn their living - mainly through laundry work and fine needlework, also by growing fruit and vegetables for sale in local markets.  St Mary Euphrasia herself visited for a week in 1844. She was delighted with the progress of the 'Holy Work', but the climate did not suit her! 

In 1845, she gave permission for two English postulants to make their novitiate in London - as an experiment,– the preferred was to send all novices to Angers.

In time, many generous benefactors, led by the Marchioness of Wellesley, came forward – to enable the Sisters to enlarge their buildings and build a beautiful church. 

In 1848, Mother Joseph approached the famous architect, Mr. A. W. Pugin, to design the Sisters' church. As the community was enclosed, a large church was needed for themselves and the girls.

When the formal opening of the church came, it was attended by the great and the good of English Catholic society at that time, including the Duke of Norfolk.  Evidently Mother Joseph's great charm and personal holiness attracted many friends to the community and she certainly knew how to network for the 'Mission'! 

By 1851, there were requests for Good Shepherd foundations in the Midlands, in Bristol, in Scotland and in Wales.

The great expansion of the Order during these years led to a need for the creation of 'national' novitiates – which in turn led to the creation of Provinces.

Cardinal Wiseman was very much in favour of English novices being trained in England.

Mary Euphrasia sent two Sisters from Angers to help set up the English Province and Novitiate.  It so happened that young Sophie Ryder, daughter of the Anglican Bishop of Bath and Wells, asked to be admitted to our Novitiate. She took the name Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart and was seen as the foundation stone of the new Novitiate. She was soon joined by sixteen others. She had consulted  John Henry Newman about her choice of community and he wrote that the charism of the Good Shepherd Sisters would be needed till the end of time! 

1851 Dalbeth - Glasgow

A Mr. and Mrs. Monteith of Carstairs made overtures to Mother Joseph with a view to a Good Shepherd foundation in Glasgow and negotiations were begun with Bishop Murdoch in the late 1840s.

In 1851, a house with nine acres was purchased at Dalbeth, Glasgow, and the work began with 'young offenders' who were sent to 'reformatory' schools.

Dalbeth developed and flourished until after World War II – when because of subsidence due to coalmining, the Good Shepherd transferred to Bishopton, a very beautiful site bordering on the Clyde.   

1851 Bristol

In 1851, Mother Joseph set up a community in Bristol at Arnos Vale. Both Glasgow and Bristol were large seaports and had all the accompanying social problems.  St. M. Euphrasia preferred the Sisters to work in large urban areas - where the need was – rather than in remote country areas.

Destroyed in WWII, Arnos Vale transferred to Henbury and Ashwicke Hall

Mother Joseph also supervised extensions to Hammersmith and the translation of the Constitutions by Sr. M. Ignatius Weld, who later became Provincial.

Mother Joseph was in poor health and died in January 1852. Mr Pugin designed a stone of black marble with the inscription; 'Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies….' Generations of novices became familiar with this stone.

In 1852, the first four young girls to apply to be Good Shepherd Contemplatives - began their training in Hammersmith. (Previously others had gone to Angers).  Cardinal Wiseman let it be known that he wanted to profess these Sisters himself. He received their vows on Dec. 18th. 1856.

Fifteen years after their arrival in London, there was a flourishing Province, a large Novitiate, numerous girls and women in care and a community of Contemplatives.

1858 Liverpool and Manchester

Thanks to the prayers of the Redemptorists in Liverpool a donation was received in 1858 to set up a Good Shepherd community in Liverpool which, became the foundation of Ford in 1868.  Meanwhile, the Bishop of Salford invited the Sisters to Manchester, the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution. A site was found in Levenshume where they began but later transferred to Blackley.

1863 Finchley

In 1863, the decision was made to move from Hammersmith – which had become overcrowded. A suitable property was found at Finchley and the required buildings were developed. The Provincialate and Novitiate were moved there.

The Province of Great Britain continued to develop and flourish in the 170 years since its foundation 1841 and spread to all parts of England, Scotland and Wales. 

In 1950's, the Novitiate averaged 50 Novices, but the latter half of the 20th century has seen unprecedented social upheaval and extraordinary changes in the Church and the world – with the State taking over some of the traditional services of religious communities.