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News > Alumnae News! > Harcourt Street, Stable Lane and beyond

Harcourt Street, Stable Lane and beyond

The history of the SHCJ Community in Harcourt Street
Harcourt Street Community and resident circa 1970
Harcourt Street Community and resident circa 1970

In September 1943, Mother Mary Angelica Atchison wrote to the Rev. Mother Provincial, Mary Paul O'Connor, with a proposal that the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ) open a hostel for girls who came up from the country to work in the Civil Service.  M.M. Angelica said the SHCJ would provide not only “supervision but also liberty” for these girls. The hostel would be unique providing educational facilities to encourage and motivate the girls to fulfil their full potential. M.M. Angelica believed that the hostel would show that the SHCJ were not just living in Ireland but would be working for Ireland.

Although the Chief Medical Officer at the time agreed there was a need for such a hostel and sisters M.M. Alphonsus and M.M. Hildegarde were deemed suitable for the roles required, M.M. Angelica was still cautious as the next step was getting approval from the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. Her fears were allayed however and the SHCJ received the full backing of the Archbishop. In a report on the SHCJ in Ireland in 1951 Archbishop McQuaid said he had always wished to help and support the SHCJ but was unable to do this until they were actually in the Archdiocese. He said they could have anything they liked - boarding school or National school - and said “could any Bishop in Europe do more for you?” Indeed only three years after the hostel in Harcourt Street was was set up Archbishop McQuaid supported the establishment of the SHCJ's new school in Killiney. 

Just ten months after M.M. Angelica had initially proposed her idea for a hostel she made her way to No. 70 Harcourt Street with M.M. Paul, M.M. Hildegarde and M.M. Boniface. No. 70 Harcourt Street proved very popular and was soon “overflowing with residents”, so much so a waiting list was required. M.M. Angelica's decision to appoint M.M. Alphonsus to look after the young women was indeed a fortunate one. She “promptly took them all to her motherly heart”. The hostel became a home from home for the residents who even found time to perform a Nativity play at Christmas time. This thoughtful gesture certainly helped to establish a great sense of camaraderie between the Nuns and the residents. One resident noted the kindness and understanding shown to her during her time at Harcourt Street which helped to shape her whole attitude to life. 

On the 2 July 1949 the opening ceremony for the new chapel took place. After a blessing, procession and mass was celebrated Sisters St John, St Peter and St Columba served lunch. It was “a beautiful and dainty affair” served upon a table decorated by M.M. Hildegarde with flowers and maidenhair ferns which had come all the way from Killiney. A letter from the Harcourt Street community said that after the Archbishop's blessing, “on this Our Lady's beautiful Feast, he left us happy in the thought that She would have us always under her special and most loving protection”. 

A resident of the hostel who filled out a questionnaire about her time there said she felt “the delightful sensation of individual liberty” during her stay. This is of course the viewpoint of only one resident, but it is worth noting that the fact that everybody was respected as an individual was what she valued most during her time there. 

The hostel as envisaged by Mother Mary Angelica back in 1942 continued its work of helping, encouraging and supporting these young women right up to 1996. As Sr Mary noted “times have changed, society has changed, Dublin has changed and the girls coming up from the country have changed” and there was no longer a need for the type of accommodation provided by the Harcourt Street hostel. The SHCJ had fulfilled a need and when it was no longer required they adapted and moved on. 

Number 69 and 70 Harcourt Street were eventually sold and Stable Lane was formed from the “new building” which was constructed from 1982 to 1983. The Sisters lives changed direction and each found their own niche. They were all engaged in a great variety of roles whether spiritual, pastoral, social, in healthcare or in education. Some have worked with the elderly, abused wives and children and have taken holy communion to those unable to attend Mass. While others have been members of the South African Association, the Institute of Feminism and Religion and other organisations. The Sisters are indeed a true embodiment of Cornelia Connolly's motto “Actions not “Words”. 

Stable Lane was sold in July 2023 but the Sisters will no doubt continue their work from their new home in Raheny.

By Sinead Farrell

(A synopsis of an article previously published by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus European Province) 

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