Nympsfield History

The history of the Marist Sisters in Nympsfield is closely linked to that of the Leigh family and in particular to that of the Misses Beatrice and Blanche Leigh, whose initiative resulted in the arrival of the Sisters on 7th August 1929. They remained great friends and benefactors of the community until their deaths, Blanche’s in 1946 and Beatrice’s in 1949.

After World War 1 the Leigh sisters sponsored another project, a Home for orphan children. Their dream was to find Sisters who would care for these children and teach them in St. Joseph’s School. They approached Cardinal Francis Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, a family friend, who recommended the Marist Sisters whom he knew to be engaged in a like apostolate in London.

Two Marist Sisters, visited Nympsfield to discuss matters with Marie Blanche Leigh and see things at first hand. Though impressed by Park House, the home of the Leighs at Woodchester, they considered it too isolated and remote from the village especially in inclement weather. The alternative was The Barracks Almshouses built in 1851 by William Leigh, and situated in the heart of the village, near the school, and near Yew Tree Cottage where the orphans were being cared for by a Matron called Mrs. Brown.

From the outside the Barracks had a certain Cotswold charm but conditions inside could only be deplored. There was no running water, no sanitation, heating, gas or electricity – hardly suitable as a potential home for an ever increasing number of needy children.

Beatrice and Blanche Leigh and two Marist Sisters attended Mass at the beautiful new St. Joseph’s Church. After Mass each Sister confided to the other that she was in no doubt that this was an apostolate their Founders would favour. The Marist Sisters never regretted this decision. The joy of the Leigh sisters can well be imagined.

After the War, in 1948 the Home Office ordered the re-organisation of Homes which aimed at improving conditions for all children in care. Homes as near as possible to real family homes were the ideal. Full scale re-organisation along these lines took place between 1951 and 1955. Flatlets for ‘families’ of boys and girls, each under the care of a certificated Child Care House Mother, were provided and attractively decorated, furnished and equipped with the aid of Government grants. Thereafter they became the direct concern of the Home Office Children’s Department. There was also a well equipped nursery for the tiny tots under the care of a sister.

This re-organisation was facilitated by the purchase and adaptation of houses close to the Convent and by the building in 1966 of a new chapel, beautiful in its liturgical simplicity.

It is always our special joy to welcome past pupils of the Home and School. They come from near and far, bringing their memories and their families. They are always anxious to see their old home and to have news of those Sisters who meant so much to them during their most impressionable years.

Sadly, this work, so dear to the Marist Sisters and especially to those who over the years served as House Mothers, had to be abandoned as Our Lady’s Homestead saw the departure of the children, when in the mid-eighties the Home Office developed a policy of fostering children rather than having them cared for in Community Homes. These changes were not easy to accept indeed they were very painful for staff and children alike, nor was the village immune from the sadness of the departures. However, true to the Marist Charism of being with Mary,

“sensitive to the needs of all, attentive to the manifestation of God’s will in our service of others” (Constitutions 2.)

a new apostolate came into being. Our Lady’s Homestead became the Marist Centre.

The Marist Centre is a place of peace and solitude. Groups and individuals come from far and wide to find spiritual renewal and rest for body and soul.

We welcome into our home individuals and groups for private and directed retreats, conferences, spiritual direction and prayer guidance. Currently the Centre is being used by different religious denominations, congregations, clergy, parish groups, family groups and various organisations.

We are happy that we now can respond to the needs of schools in the area by facilitating Days of Retreat for pupils and staff.

The Centre offers a Conference Room, Conservatory, Library, Dining Room and several Lounges. There is also a Chapel and a Prayer Room available. We provide comfortable accommodation for over thirty guests. Some rooms have en-suite facilities. There is also a lift. We can provide you with good fresh home-cooked meals or you can self-cater in our specially equipped kitchens.

As Marist Sisters, we and our staff offer you a special welcome in ‘Mary’s Way’ and we will accompany your stay with our prayer and dedication.

Our history continues to unfold as we move into the future....