Chapter VIII. S. Stephen's Home and Industrial School.
IT seems a natural transition to pass from the care of the children in school, and the thought of them in their own homes or in the streets, to their training in the Industrial School.
It has often been objected against the Penitentiary movement--the work of those who are striving to rescue the very lowest and most abject of the fallen women and girls of our streets--that while taking such pains and spending so much money in endeavours to save these wretched ones, they are forgetting the higher claims of the pure and innocent. "Why," it is said, "lavish so much care, and make such sacrifices, for those who have already yielded to temptation, and so deeply grieved the Holy Spirit of God, when there are thousands of children of honest and industrious parents who want [114/115] your help, and would gladly welcome it, to rescue them from the poverty and temptation by which they are surrounded? Why subject yourselves to the disappointments which, by your own confession, are continually frustrating your best efforts for the fallen, when you may bestow your labour and devotion on so far more hopeful soil?"
These, indeed, are weighty and powerful objections, and in a merely utilitarian point of view unanswerable; but God's "ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts." If He left us to choose and decide our own work, to weigh carefully with calm and even-handed prudence what experience and the circumstances of the case would lead us to do for Him, how much we should devote to His service, how much refuse, then these objections might influence us. But to work for God is to give ourselves to Him, to open our hearts to the voice of His Holy Spirit, and to follow His call in faith, as Abraham " went forth not knowing whither he went." To suppose that our weak and finite minds can decide what we can best do for God is wretched presumption. Let us only be too thankful if He will permit us the privilege of undertaking any, the most unpromising work for Him.
But as a matter of fact we find that the more difficult [115/116] work includes and opens the way to ·the easier. The zeal and devotion which are not daunted by the apparent difficulties of more heroic undertakings, find repose and comfort in the more promising. Can we doubt that it was God's voice which, through the holy advocate of the Penitentiary cause (so early taken from his Apostolic labours in South Africa) summoned the daughters of the English Church to devote themselves to the merciful work of recovering their fallen sisters who lay in the very mire and filth of sinful pollution? And was it not the spirit which was then evoked, and the self-devotion then newly aroused, which sent forth our Sisters to the Crimea, and gave proof that the truly Catholic traditions of love and self-sacrifice were not lost amongst ourselves, but that there were Christian women who counted not their lives dear unto them, if so they might win Christ, while ministering to the sick and wounded of His family? Nor has this spirit died since. One of the most flourishing Sisterhoods now existing amongst us (S. John Baptist, of Clewer) was the first fruits of Bishop Armstrong's earnest appeals for the rescue of the fallen; and yet while it has never relaxed, but rather increased, its care for these, it has been permitted by God's blessing to stretch out its arms far and wide in ministering to the pure and innocent, [116/117] orphans, widows, and strangers, in many other works and houses of charity.
And such in a humbler way was the case here. The circumstances of the district, as well as other private reasons, were an evident call to undertake at once the Penitentiary work; and yet, if the Sisters had been left to choose, they would have preferred commencing with the Industrial School. Indeed, in a very bumble way it was commenced before the Refuge. Two or three girls were taken into their house to be trained for service, though it was not fully developed until later. While the Refuge was in Calvert Street it of course could not be enlarged, as it would have been undesirable to mix the two classes together; and when the Penitentiary was opened in the country, there were no funds for increased expenditure. Still, the Sisters were able to keep a few for household work; and in various ways, as pressing cases presented themselves, the numbers were increased to ten or twelve. And how could the Clergy or Sisters go out on their daily visits among the poor without meeting with very many pressing cases? Young girls, perhaps still in the school or just out of it, living in the greatest peril with a drunken father who might at any moment cast his child adrift; an idle, unfeeling stepmother, who would [117/118] send her out to nurse a child she could scarce carry, and be a drudge in a house to a large family; and if she came home worn out, or was sent away because it was too ranch for her, would tell her, "Then you may get your living on the streets." Some, already in workshops, factories, even dustyards, where they shrank from the contamination to which they were exposed, gladly sought a shelter under the wing of a loving and religions House. Some were admitted for their very importunity, because they prayed so earnestly to be saved from the danger and wretchedness in which they were at home; another, whose temper often made it difficult to keep her, would say that if she were sent out she was sure to be tempted on to the streets. Another had lost her mother, and during her father's absence at work would get the meals for her brothers, who were thieves themselves, and would bring home their companions with them. Another was in danger of temptation from her own father, from whom her mother was separated. Others have been starving at home, or driven from home by aunts or other relations who had undertaken to keep them, and must have gone to the workhouse if we had not admitted them.
While we were still struggling between the fear of increasing our expenses and the pressing claims for [118/119] admission, an opportunity seemed to offer by which we might admit more cases, and at the same time find some provision for them. The master of a large factory, in which sewing machines were employed, offered to take some of the girls and give them work, either at the machines or in some 'other department. On the strength of this prospect several new cases were admitted; and for some months eight or ten girls went every morning, under the charge of an older person, to the factory in the city, returning every evening. One or two were already able to work at the machines, and younger ones were earning small wages in the making up of mantles, &c.; but the work proved too fluctuating to ensure a regular support for those employed, and it was given up. It was far easier to increase the numbers than to reduce them; so it was determined to try to maintain them still. One or two younger children were received on the promise of parents to pay for them; and though the promise was often broken, the Sisters' hearts were not hard enough to send the little ones away. Others were paid for by friends interested about them; so that from various reasons the numbers soon increased to upwards of thirty.
The Home in Calvert Street being too small, it became a question between taking another house in the [119/120] neighbourhood, or removing the Industrial School altogether. At this juncture the Sisters themselves undertook to rent a house adjoining the House of Mercy at Hendon, where the Industrial School was long carried on under the name of S. Stephen's Home, having been opened on S. Stephen's Day.
This removal into the country at first seemed of great advantage to the children, in a moral and physical point of view. It withdrew them from many temptations near home, and improved their bodily health. It was very pleasing to see the little ones in health and strength enjoying the pure air of the country, so different from the stilling atmosphere of their homes, and to find them, under the care of a Sister who devoted her whole attention to their religious and secular instruction, growing in Christian grace. Some were trained in household work, the kitchen or laundry, and the elder ones, most of whom were Communicants, and nearer the age of service, were brought up in Calvert Street, where they did the household work for the Sisterhood. They were under the spiritual charge of the Chaplain, and attended the daily services in the Chapel at Hendon.
In the present acknowledged dearth of good servants we may hope that a good work was done, not only to [120/121] the girls themselves, but to society, in training them thus early in those religious principles and industrious habits which are most likely to produce honest and faithful servants.
Altogether this has proved a very successful and encouraging feature of Mission work. Even this is not without disappointments, but the cheerful aspect decidedly preponderates. One of the first inmates is now married, and a National Schoolmistress, who has made the influences of her education felt most beneficially. Her sister, after being in service, where she gained a good character, became a lay Sister at S. Margaret's, East Grinstead, but died lately after a short illness. Four sisters from one family succeeded each other in the Home; two are married, one is a schoolmistress, another in service. Four other sisters, orphans, were admitted; one is now in service in the Sisters' school, another is a schoolmistress. Others are doing well in service, from whom the Sisters frequently receive letters full of affection and interest in the progress of the Church, and often. of anxiety to know whether their parents, brothers, sisters, or former companions are persevering in their religious duties. One of these on leaving her place was asked by her mistress, in token of her regard for her, what present she liked best, a [121/122] dress or any other gift. Knowing that her mistress was a good artist, she asked her for a painting, which she has presented to S. Peter's Church. Some are at work in the neighbourhood, and for these the Guild of S. Katharine is found useful in keeping them stedfast to their old associations and interests.
When the Mother House of the Sisterhood was removed to Walworth, S. Stephen's Home was removed also, and there it is continuing the good work begun here, and still educating many little ones from this parish.