Mary Stewart (B.1909-): Education and Schooling – Writing Lives

Mary Stewart (B.1909-): Education and Schooling

Rather unusually for a 20th century autobiographer, Mary does not mention any aspect of her life at school, choosing to dismiss when and what kind of schooling she received. Mary simply mentions in passing: “We all went to St. Patricks R.C school”.

It is possible Mary chose to omit her school life from her autobiography as she does not see it as all that important, instead focusing on her family life at home and the local community of Collyhurst.

Although Mary does not mention any information about her school, it is interesting to note that after some research I have discovered St. Patrick’s does in fact boast a very rich history, holding an important presence in the history of Roman Catholicism locally in Collyhurst and more widely across the whole of Manchester.

St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was built in 1832 (shortly after Catholic Emancipation) and attached to the church was a nunnery and school. The nunnery and school were first established in 1845 by the Presentation sisters; 3 nuns who had been brought over from Ireland to spread their good work across the local community and large Irish population who were travelling into Manchester looking for work during the difficult times of the dreaded famine. The school was prestigious and even had Father Ratti, soon to be Pope Pius XI, escorted across its grounds, making Chapman Street, Rochdale Road, and Oldham Road hallowed groundcollyhurst church

The school started out with around 20 girls, but by 1886 it is believed the school had over 1,000 girls aged between 7 and 14 years old attending. Very important in the school’s historical wealth, St Patrick’s school was the first to give free education to girls.

We are unsure as to when the school became mixed sex however, it could be estimated this was at some time during the late 19th and early 20th century, before Mary and her male siblings attended the school together during the period 1913 onward. The school and church were rebuilt in the centurion year after enough funds were raised for renovation (around £30,000).

This could lead us to believe that Mary would have received a strict Catholic education, with nuns still teaching at the school to this very day. Although Mary makes no mention of it, religion would have played an important part in her life during her time at school and we can assume this is where Mary would have taken important steps in her religious upbringing such as her baptism, first holy communion and confirmation.

collyhurst nunnery and school

If Mary took nothing else from her time at St Patricks school, she was most definitely in good stead when it came to her work ethic throughout her early and later life, working right up until the age of 70, being able to “..please myself where I go & when, for the first time in my life.”

  • Image 1: Original St Patricks Church before renovation 
  • Image 2: A section of St Patricks school and nunnery as it stands today 
  • Stewart, Mary. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, 2-741

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