The foundation of our Convent is a striking testimony of God's power to draw good from evil. Towards the close of the last century the flame of Faith which had been dimmed so long was beginning to shine once more, and our country was awakening to the value of that heritage of which she had been deprived. On the other side of the channel the Church was passing through a period of trial, persecution being directed particularly against Religious engaged in the work of education.
It was in this extremity that Reverend Mother Got, Superioress General of the Religious of the Cross of St. Quentin decided to send some of her daughters to England. The difficulties involved in such a step were enormous, but since one field of labour for the glory of God and the good of souls had been closed to them, their one desire was to find new scope for their apostolic zeal.
God had directed their resolve, for He had need of workers who would spend themselves generously in the fields that were white with the harvest.
It is almost impossible for us to conceive the trials which the execution of this plan involved. The Religious were no strangers to the hardships which await all who follow in the way of the Cross, but they had hitherto laboured in an atmosphere where the Faith was part of the national life; where there was a fervour even in the midst of persecution.
In the land which they were to adopt the chill consequent upon the Separation from the Church and the loss of the warmth of its teaching could still be felt. Even amongst the faithful there was a certain strangeness - they seemed so little at home. There was nothing to afford the slighest encouragement, but they had heard those magnetic words " Follow Me," and they followed committing all into His hands.
As strangers to the country it might seem that the Religious would be directed to one of the larger and more important towns. But Providence had destined otherwise. Theirs was to be a hidden toil in a little spot on the south coast; and theirs the privilege of being the first labourers, who would have to bear the heats and trials of the day.
The Religious of the Cross are devoted particularly to the care and instruction of youth, and they were eager, from the moment of their arrival at the little town of Bournemouth, to find a site suitable for a school building. To-day one is apt to take for granted that which fifty years ago, involved difficulties of all kinds.
What courage it needed for that little band to set about building a school while they were uncertain of its drawing pupils, and moreover in a district where they had no one to give an impetus to their work. God had called them there; they would do their part and could be assured that He would not fail in His.
In 1887 a site was acquired on the Portman estate, a spot within easy reach of the sea and woods, and also most peacefully secluded. As years pass on, and the growing life of the town has caused other buildings to be erected, we rejoice at the distinctive design chosen by the architect, J. J. Carew, Esq., of London, which makes the Convent a landmark even amid its busy modern surroundings. The structure calls for our closest attention.
Everywhere is emphasised the Cross, symbolic of that labour and suffering which bring forth abundant fruits. On all sides it meets the eye and there is no escaping its message.
What joy must have filled the hearts of that little community of seven, when the foundation stone was laid on September 6th, 1888. This was indeed a step towards the realisation of their hope, and Fr. Kerr, S.J., spoke of the tremendous work to be accomplished by them. Could they have seen the transformation which the years were to bring, they would have realised that the blessing of God fully justified their confident prayer.
Earlier in that year, Dr. Vertue, Bishop of Portsmouth, had presented a small iron chapel which had been erected on the Convent site. This provided for the spiritual needs not only of the Community, but also of the parishioners, until the building of Corpus Christi Church in 1897. Thus the Convent from these early times was playing a two-fold part.
Whilst devoting themselves to the young souls who came directly under their care, the Religious had the consolation of seeing their little chapel become a centre round which the Catholicity of the district developed. But their apostolic zeal had not yet found sufficient scope; as their Divine model they wished to give themselves to all, and to enable many of His little ones, outside the boarding school, to enjoy the care and instruction which they were so anxious to provide.
Their generous desire was made practicable, when a friend, Mrs. James, made a gift of land adjoining the Convent, on which stands Holy Cross Elementary School; which has done such great work in sowing and fostering the seeds of Faith.
Records of the Convent school take us back to September, 1889, when classes commenced. Proportionate to the difficulties encountered in any undertaking, is the joy experienced when some little has been achieved. Our revered Mothers found great consolation in the children who seemed to realise that they were taking part in a work that was to grow and extend for God's glory, and were ever ready to give generous and affectionate co-operation in all that was undertaken.
After so many trials they were permitted to see signs of the fruit of their labours. The number of pupils increased, and it was with grateful hearts that they watched the extension of the building as need reouired. A beginning of the main wing was made in 1897 by the sculptured porch and Entrance Hall. The Gymnasium too was built at this time.
It had been planned to build a Chapel over the Gymnasium, but later the decision was altered, although the great double staircase remained. The beautiful little Oratory was completed and blessed: there, many have since begged their Mother's blessing and pledged their loyalty as Children of Mary.
In 11901 and 1902 the Religious were asked to make foundations in Ryde and Southsea, respectively. Twenty years before they had arrived as exiles, and now, not only was God furthering their educational work, but He was making clear that he wished the Religious of the Cross to make a permanent home in this country. They in turn spared no pains to improve and extend the house, that He might thereby be better served.
The Boys' Preparatory School was opened in 1902, and extensions were undertaken in the Girls' Department. Meantime the Community had grown and the large number of English and Irish subjects, many of them past pupils of the Convent, who had presented themselves, made it necessary to build a separate Novitiate House in 1911.