Our Order today in the UK
Today our presence is felt in three centres within the UK, at Iver Heath, Maryvale and Holywell.
The house at Iver Heath, located just outside London in Buckinghamshire, was established as a convent in 1931 when a group of five sisters were sent to England from the house of St Bridget in Rome to a property offered to the Order by a lifelong married friend of Mother Elisabeth Hesseblad, Marie Cisneros Potter. It was a small but elegant Tudor-style property that stood near woodlands and by a country lane, close to the small, historic town of Fulmer. Over the years the house was enlarged, including the addition of a beautiful chapel.
The first Abbess of the new convent was Mother Katherine Flanagan, who had been working alongside Mother Elisabeth and had been in charge of the Bridgettine convent in Lugano, Italy. The first years of the foundation were tough, including times of real poverty and privation. Nonetheless, trust in God's Providence, and the generosity of local people, helped see the sisters through. Under Mother Katherine's prudent guidance, Iver Heath became well established, and its chapel became in effect the parish church of the area as there was no other Catholic church in the vicinity. Today the Sisters' chapel continues to serve the needs of the local parish.
The convent at Maryvale is at a site that has been in Catholic occupation since the Middle Ages. Formerly 'Oscott House', it came to the Church in 1702 at the bequest of Father Andrew Bromwich who had inherited this property from his family. From 1794 to 1838 it was the home of Oscott College, the first Seminary to open in England after the Reformation. During this time the historic Chapel of the Sacred Heart was inaugurated, to which pilgrims often come to pray.
In 1846 after the removal of the college to the larger purpose-built premises three miles away, John Henry Newman and his community who had recently been received into the Church were granted the former seminary as a house of retreat and study, although they did not stay there long. It was Newman and his followers who gave it the name 'Maryvale' after St Philip Neri's church in Rome, and it is specified in the Papal Brief as the location of the first English Oratory of St Philip in 1848. The following year, after the Oratory moved to another location in Birmingham, saw Maryvale become the Novitiate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and then from 1851 onwards, right until 1980, another religious community, the Sisters of Mercy, ran an orphanage in the building and established a school for poor children. In 1980 it became a catechetical centre for the archdiocese of Birmingham and the present Catholic college for theology and catechesis developed out of the Adult Centre for Catechetics opened by Bishop Dwyer in 1980.
Today the college is an international Catholic distance-learning college for catechesis, theology, philosophy and religious education. A convent for Bridgettine sisters was built in the grounds in 1999 and the Order forms the spiritual heart of the Institute, with their constant contemplative prayer and liturgical worship as well as warm hospitality.
The convent at Holywell provides hospitality and accomodation for pilgrims to the Welsh medieval place of pilgrimage, St. Winifride's Well, Holywell. The Sisters took over and remodelled two properties with their own histories - the old hospice known as St Winefride's Pilgrims Rest and the adjoining Ave Maria Hall. The former is now the new Guest House known as St Winefride's House, the latter is the Convent proper. Both were opened in 2008.
St Winefride's Well
St Winefride's Well is the most famous 'healing' well in Great Britain, and is the only such shrine to survive the Reformation as a place of public pilgrimage throughout Penal times. It has thus a continuous history of public pilgrimage for over 13 centuries and is popularly known as the "Lourdes of Wales." It is located in Holywell, Flintshire in North Wales.
According to legend, St Winefride's Well first sprung up on the spot where the Saint was assaulted and struck down by the sword of a certain Caradog. Restored to life as a result of the prayers of her uncle St Beuno, Winefride lived as a nun thereafter for another 22 years. The extraordinary and enduring personality of this 7th-century Welsh lady has meant that she has been venerated as a saint ever since the moment of her death.
History of Hospitality - House for Pilgrims
Historically, pilgrims including the sick would stay at whatever accommodation they could find in the vicinity of the well, usually at one of the numerous inns in and around the town of Holywell. It was long recognised, however, that a special place of welcome should be made available for the sick. In more modern times a hospice for the sick and poor was opened in 1870 and was run by the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle (whose main house was in Birmingham). In still more recent times it transformed into a Catholic guest house, and became known as "St Winefride's Pilgrims Rest". When the Sisters of Charity could no longer provide the personnel to run the house, it was given to the Bridgettine sisters after the house had been modernised and made suitable for 21st century pilgrims. It was opened for guests in 2008.