Christine Vasquez - Monday 14th December
Wednesday the 16th December marks the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Loreto Sisters on the Rock. News Editor Christine Vasquez looks back at the role they played in her life.
An interview on Radio Gibraltar has made me reminisce about growing up with the Loreto Nuns. I have such fond memories. There were all characters: Sister Thaddeus had a short fuse, and Mother Presentation was a sweetheart. But, my guardian angel was the cook, Sister Celestine. She’d save me whenever I got into trouble, sitting me in the kitchen with tea and biscuits.
The School Head was Sister Theresa. She would sing in a high-pitched voice and we would struggle to control the schoolgirl giggles every morning in chapel. Religion was obviously a big thing - more of a way of life. It was after all very much a convent as well as a school, and this held its own mystery as we wondered what their bedrooms on the private corridor looked like.
I was quite a naughty, chatterbox child who combined my days between tearing around on go-carts in Moorish Castle and learning deportment at school. The nuns were strict, but I always remember them as kind and with a twinkle in their eyes. Their aim was to make young ladies of us, but in hindsight I think they also admired a rebellious streak - although they did their best to tame it.
Even then, I enjoyed asking questions and would bombard them with, “Sister, do you have hair under your veil? Is it long? Who cuts it for you?’’ They were such a part of my life that I remember announcing one day that when I grew up I wanted to be a nun. Their answer:
“You can serve the Lord in many ways, but somehow I don’t think that’s your vocation.” They weren’t that naïve!
The nuns brought their Irish heritage with them, and we would always pray for the troubles in Ireland even though as an eight-year-old growing up in cushioned Gibraltar, I never really knew what I was praying for. I knew it was important to them, so I always prayed really hard for Ireland. I now wonder how homesick they were, even though they really made Gibraltar their home.
Obviously, Saint Patrick’s Day was one of the highlights of the year. There were no lessons and we played games. If my memory serves me correctly, the Irish Regiment, then stationed on the Rock, would deliver a box of shamrocks and a couple of bottles of Baileys. I think it was the one day the nuns would indulge in a tipple. The other big day at school was ‘Missions’. It was a fete, open to the public, with the funds raised going to underprivileged countries. Mother Dipna, in charge of the gardens, would sell plants at 10p a pot.
Generations have enjoyed an ‘old school’ rounded education at the hands of the Loreto Sisters. There was a lot of reciting poetry, and the importance of good manners was drilled into us. If I had to give tips on how you recognise a Loreto past pupil: their heads automatically bob when they say ‘Jesus’, they know not to fidget, they can play netball (boy, did we play netball), and they have a honed ability to glide across chairs or into cars with knees and ankles always closed together- a skill that requires years of practice.