It was poverty that drew the Loreto Sisters to England in 1851. The Irish famine had brought thousands of Irish men, women and children to the big cities of England and Scotland in search of work and accommodation. Initially they lived in crowded and squalid conditions.
Canon Toole of St Wilfred’s parish, Hulme, Manchester was only too aware of their misery and did all he could to alleviate it. He believed that education would enable the children of these poor people to escape from their terrible poverty. He knew that the Loreto Sisters had an excellent record for education in Ireland so he wrote to ask if they would come to Manchester to start a school for his beloved poor children. Mother Teresa Ball responded generously and sent a party of sisters led by Mother Anne Hickie.
The sisters took charge of the parochial school and opened a small boarding school to help to subsidise it. The initial years were very difficult, particularly as they faced hostility in the anti-catholic neighbourhood.
In 1856, Mother Margaret Alphonsa Ellis became the new superior in Manchester. The memoirs portray her as “broadminded, full of wisdom, generous and of indomitable courage; in fact a noble and a valiant woman.”
Over the years, the school expanded and by 1900 the sisters had charge of a boarding school, and a large Higher Grade day school on the Convent property, plus the Schools of St Wilfrid’s, St Lawrence’s, the Holy Name and Holy Family, a total of over 2300 children.
Loreto College continued to provide education for girls of all ages until in 1977 it became a co-educational Sixth Form College, which continues to serve the needs of the Manchester area. It is a vibrant Institution at the heart of Manchester’s inner city regeneration and part of the global network of Loreto Schools/Colleges run by the Loreto Sisters on every continent.
Following the first foundation in Manchester, others were made across England, Scotland and Wales – some were closed as the need arose for the sisters to move into other ministries; but there are thriving schools to this day in Altrincham and St Albans.