1828 - 1865

The conflict within (part 5)

Conflicts over schools

The management of the Roman Catholic schools in Wolverhampton revealed splits in the town's Catholic community, especially between the priests, who dominated the Governors' Committee, and the nuns who ran the schools of St Patrick and St George in Little's Lane. Many of the disputes were centred on the issue of finance for school building improvements. In January 1853, the nuns asked that the gallery in St George's school should be moved to the girls' schoolroom, and that the gallery in the girls' schoolroom should be moved elsewhere in the building. A meeting of the Committee of the Governors on 14 January, however, "greatly regretted that there were no funds available" for this project, and so turned down the nuns' request. [CSG 14th Jan 1853] The same response was elicited when, in October 1853, the Sisters asked that a boundary wall be built in front of their schools to help protect their staff and pupils.

"At present we are painfully exposed to every idle passerby and have to endure much insult from many of them. One day the stones thrown over by them numbered more than two hundred. On another occasion, one of the pupil-teachers received a severe blow in the chest from a brick end thrown through the rails, besides several other injuries received by the little children whilst at play." [CSG 6th Oct 1837].

Whether this was an example of anti-Catholic violence is not certain, since the schools were situated in the heartland of Caribee Island. The Committee decided that if the nuns wanted a wall built, they should build it themselves. There was further disagreement over the question of the Sisters running a special class for middle school pupils at St Patrick's. The dozen or so children in this class paid an average of 6d per week, which was less than they would have been charged had they gone to another school. The nuns argued that these pupils helped to set an example to others, "enabling us to promote cleanliness and tidiness amongst the poorer and more disorderly children". The Committee reacted firmly against this idea, and wrote to the Reverend Mother reminding her that St Patrick's was a Poor School, and ordering her to remove the middle school pupils from the premises. [ibid].

Earlier in the same year, the relationship between the Sisters and the Committee had reached such a low ebb that Bishop Ullathorne was asked to intervene. The Bishop pointed out to the Committee that "the Sisters of Mercy, by the express terms of their rule, as approved by the Holy See, require them to be two together when absent from their convent, that the one may not only be a protection to the other but also a witness". [CSG 23rd Aug 1857] The nuns claimed that because of this stipulation, there needed to be four of them working at the schools in Little's Lane, as the building comprised two floors. The problem had arisen over the Committee's refusal to pay the salary of four nuns. The Bishop suggested a compromise solution which involved the Committee making a payment of £80 per annum, which the Sisters could share out amongst themselves. [ibid].

As the 1850s progressed, the situation began to improve to such an extent that by 1860 the Committee had reversed its decision concerning the building of a wall around the schools of St Patrick and St George. [ibid] At approximately the same time, the Governors decided to pay for major building repairs to the schools, especially with regard to the roof and the drainage.