In 1895 there were five Sacred Heart convents and schools in England and four in Ireland. The House Journal of Roehampton relates that “it had long been the wish of Our Mothers in Paris and of friends of our Society that a house should be founded in Scotland.” Then, one day early in 1895, Mother Janet Stuart received a letter from Father Bisset, parish priest in Nairn, asking earnestly for a foundation in his parish. Mother Stuart passed the letter on to the Mother House in Paris. In a few days the reply came that Mother Stuart was to write the bishop of Aberdeen to consult him on the advisability of making such a foundation. In her correspondence with Bishop Hugh Macdonald, Mother Stuart mentioned that “we generally choose the larger centres where good can be done to a greater number of souls.” She then asked the bishop if he could see an opening for our work in the city of Aberdeen. The bishop’s answer has come down to us in these words, “What! Go to Nair to preach to the fishes in the cold North Sea! Certainly not! But come here to Aberdeen and help to warm up the hearts of the people of the Granite City by devotion to the Sacred Heart.”
And so it was that in April of that year, Reverend Mother Digby, then an Assistant General, and Reverend Mother Stuart, Superior Vicar of England and Ireland, arrived in Aberdeen where they were warmly welcomed by the Sisters of Nazareth and by the bishop, who gave them every help in his power while they searched for a suitable house.
The story goes that the cabman driving them around stopped outside “Westwood,” the house they subsequently bought, and said that was the house for them and that he had heard it was to be sold privately. The bishop agreed that it was the very place for them and the two nuns recalled that Reverend Mother de Sartorius, the Superior General, had pointed to that very area on the map as the most suitable for their purpose.
The matter was put in the hands of Mr. John Craigen, the solicitor who was to prove a good friend of the Society for many years. In June, Mr. Craigen heard that the property would be put on the market but probably not for another year. When she heard this, Mother Stuart travelled back to Aberdeen, accompanied this time by Reverend Mother Thunder, superior of Roehampton, and once more enjoyed the hospitality of the Sisters of Nazareth. Hearing that the owner of Westwood was temporarily absent, the two nuns decided to try to see through the house and, if possible, find out just when it was likely to come onto the market. Dressed in secular attire, they arrived at the door and the maid who opened it for them admitted that the rumour about a forthcoming sale was true. At that moment, however, Mrs. Milne, the lady of the house, appeared unexpectedly and informed the callers that her house was definitely not for sale.
However, after some conversation at the door-step, the nuns were invited in and were allowed to look at some of the rooms. While they were looking around, Mrs. Milne admitted that, offered the right price, she would in fact be prepared to sell. But any hopes they had on hearing that were dashed when she called after them, “Please inform your lawyer that I want no more such visits.” However, when Mr. Craigen opened negotiations for the purchase of the house, his skill overcame all obstacles and, only after the contract was signed did Mrs Milne discover, to her conternation, that the purchasers were nuns.
The first members of the new community arrived at Westwood on the morning of 29th November.… Among the many gifts from the Mother House and from England and Ireland was a large case containing a statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen, a present from our Mother General in Paris. And so, when Mother Stuart and Mother Thunder arrived in the evening, they were met at the entrance by two statues, one of the Sacred Heart and the other of Our Lady of Aberdeen.
Mother Stuart could never have foreseen how her affection for Our Lady under this title would awaken devotion to Mary in the Aberdeen diocese. Following Mother Stuart’s example, the Sacred Heart community promoted this devotion in their schools and at the parish level through their pupils.
Moira Donnelly rscj