Fight against Alnwick convent closure

The Convent of Mercy, in Alnwick.
The Convent of Mercy, in Alnwick.

A petition launched to try to save a convent from closure has attracted nearly 200 signatures in its first week.

Last Thursday, we revealed that the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy is proposing to shut St Mary’s Convent and Costello Centre on Bailiffgate in Alnwick.

The dwindling number of sisters and their increasing need for care have forced the closure plans.

There are currently only six religious sisters in Alnwick and five members of staff. A consultation period with staff is running until Friday, July 3.

Closure would end a tradition spanning more than a century, after the Sisters of Mercy arrived in the town in 1890.

Opponents have vowed to fight the proposals and St Paul’s RC Church parishioner Margaret Givens has launched a petition.

Since we published it on our website last Thursday, it has been signed by more than 180 people, including objectors from around the world.

Margaret, 72, has been buoyed by the support and has urged more people to add their names to the petition.

She said: “It has been heartwarming to find so many people who have bothered to go online and put their name on the petition.

“I have been stopped on the street by so many people who said that they didn’t want the convent to close and said that the nuns have been so kind to them or members of their family over the years.

“It is the only convent in Northumberland and it would be a big loss if it was to close.”

The nuns have certainly played an important role in the community, including teaching many children over the years. Comments left by objectors on the petition demonstrate how highly-regarded the sisters are and the strength of feeling against the proposals. Michelle Mcfall, from West Yorkshire, wrote: “I was born and brought up in Alnwick as a Catholic. I was taught by extremely dedicated nuns who are now trying to retire in peace and safety at St Mary’s Convent house. You cannot destroy this.”

Elizabeth Lamb, from Sydney, Australia, added: “I went to the convent in the 1970s. The current nuns have been resident in Alnwick for decades and it would be lovely for them to end their days in the town they have called home for so long. Please rethink this closure.”

Linda Chiwona Jackson, from the United States of America, wrote: “I attended Our Lady’s Convent High School from 1985 to 1990. I was one of the students from Africa. I would be sad to see the Sisters of Mercy move and leave Alnwick. They impacted my education and my life in a positive way. God bless them all.”

The Sisters of Mercy arrived in the town in 1890 at the request of the parish priest to provide education and visit the sick. Father Robert rented 12 Bailiffgate and later Mother Evangelist bought the property.

Locals quickly recognised the value of the education provided by the sisters and were happy to send their children to the schools.

At the end of 1897, a new extension was built, including the refectory and chapel. The first postulant, Sister Agnes, joined the community. The second half of the convent was built and ready for use by the private school in 1917. The new Convent School, on the current St Paul’s site, was opened in 1962 and had excellent results. It was passed over to a Trust in 1993.

Explaining the plans to shut the convent, Institute leader Sister Colette Cronin said: “With regards to the proposed closure of our convent in Alnwick, I can assure people that this is a cause of great sadness for us that we find ourselves in this position and we did not make this decision lightly.

“The number of sisters in the Community in Alnwick has decreased over the past years, and in fact, the same is true for the Institute as a whole.

“Our proposal to close the convent is not made for financial reasons, but for the sake of some of the sisters who are getting older and will be able to benefit from the care that is provided in a number of our other Communities.”

Sign the petition here or come into our office on Bondgate Without to add your name to a paper copy.