Timeline of the history of the Society of the Sacred Heart – Barbara Vesey Provincial Archivist

Plans to create an online timeline of the history of the Society of the Sacred Heart began in 2016, as part of the planned celebrations for 2017 around the 175th anniversary of the Society’s presence in the UK. A teaching order of nuns, the Society was founded in France in 1800 by Madeleine Sophie Barat, who was canonised as St Madeleine Sophie in 1925. A group of seven nuns came over to Britain from France in 1842, establishing schools for Catholic girls in England, Scotland and Ireland (then part of the UK). The first school in England was at Berrymead Manor, Acton, London; in 1850 this school relocated to Roehampton, where it remained until the Second World War, when it moved again, this time to Woldingham. In its place on the grounds at Roehampton a tertiary college established by the Society was relocated from central London and renamed Digby Stuart College after the two English nuns, Mabel Digby and Janet Erskine Stuart, who had been Superiors General of the international Society. This college remains to this day, and is now one of the four constituent colleges that make up the University of Roehampton. The nuns of the Society have the appellation ‘RSCJ’ for ‘réligieuse du Sacré Coeur de Jésus’, the French for ‘women religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus’.


The timeline was a collaborative effort between the Society’s Archivist and its Schools and College Network Co-ordinator. The Sacred Heart Schools and College Network is comprised of Society of the Sacred Heart schools (primary, secondary and tertiary) from all over the world. We also relied upon individual RSCJ who shared their memories and photographs. It took over a year to develop and launch, and many of its more technical aspects (coding, sourcing images, etc.) were a steep learning curve for its creators!

69 Malta1954 – 4th May, 1954: Queen Elizabeth II opens the Society’s Mater Admirabilis College at Tal Virtu, Malta.
(C) England/Wales Provincial Archives, Society of the Sacred Heart. 


The timeline charts the origins and development of the England/Wales (ENW) Province of the Society of the Sacred Heart, from 1779 (the birth of Madeleine Sophie) to the present. The timeline also includes significant events from the wider world that affected the growth and direction of the Society, such as the French Revolution, The Oxford Movement and the 1870 Education Act.


The RSCJ in these islands have been grouped in different ways over the years, and as a result the timeline reflects this in its inclusion of other Provinces and Congregations with whom the ENW Province has historical and ongoing connections. As St Madeleine Sophie Barat said, ‘Times change and we must change with them.’ The hope for creating the timeline was that this dip into the history of the Province would demonstrate the way in which the RSCJ have changed with the times, and continue to do so.


Like most timelines, this one is always a work in progress. The intention is to add to it so it can be an ongoing record of the Society and its educational pursuits. If you are or have been a student at one of the Sacred Heart schools or colleges, past or present – at Roehampton, St Charles (Kensington), Hammersmith, Woldingham, Tunbridge Wells (Beechwood), Hove, Fenham – please feel free to get in touch with any feedback or photographs/events you would like to  add.

80 Pope’s visit 1982 – May, 1982: Pope John Paul II visits Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton, addressing representatives from all religious communities while on his visit to Britain. Sister Dorothy Bell RSCJ, then Principal of the College, guides him round. (c) England/Wales Provincial Archives, Society of the Sacred Heart. 


You can view the timeline at https://www.societysacredheart.org.uk/Timeline
For more information about any of the images or documents, please contact the Provincial Archivist Barbara Vesey at rscjenwarchives@gmail.com

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