The Industrial School in Goldenbridge was a large institution but very few Sisters worked in it. Prior to 1942, the Reverend Mother of the convent was always the Resident Manager of Goldenbridge. Although there were four different Resident Managers notified to the Department of Education between 1936 and 1942, these Sisters had very little contact with the daily administration in the School or with the children who were committed to it. The testimony of Sr Alida,3 who came to Goldenbridge as a young nun in the early 1940s, was that administration in the school and management were delegated to one nun, Sr Pietrina,4 who was elderly and diabetic when Sr Alida was appointed.
Sr Alida had no recollection of any other nun in the Community being involved in the running of the Institution other than Sr Pietrina. She said that, apart from visiting the Industrial School to watch films or concerts, there was no contact between the Industrial School and the convent, and the nuns in the convent would not have known the children in the Industrial School.
The Department of Education wanted to ensure that the actual day-to-day running of the Institution would be in the hands of a young, energetic, qualified Sister. Sr Bianca was appointed as Sister-in-Charge of the Industrial School in the early 1940s, and was appointed Resident Manager the following year. At the same time Sr Alida, who was a young newly professed Sister, in her mid-20s, was appointed as her assistant. Sr Bianca continued as Resident Manager until the mid-1950s.
According to Sr Alida, when Sr Bianca took over ‘she was a very powerful personality, controlling person. She went to her major Superior in Carysfort and said she would take the running of the school ... provided she got the handling of the finance’.
Sr Alida said that this gave her ‘great ease of conscience’ because it meant that nobody could ever question that the money given to the Industrial School was spent by the convent in any other way. She explained: there were lots of allegations at that time made, rightly or wrongly, that school money went to the convent. That was the system. Sr Bianca ended that system and the money was – she had the cheque book, Pietrina never had a cheque book, and paid the bills.
Sr Alida maintained that only a person as powerful as Sr Bianca could have succeeded in having this change made to the management structure of Goldenbridge. She said that, before Sr Bianca’s intervention, the money came into the convent to the Superior and was lodged to the bank: I know we used to say that it wasn’t all totally honestly done, I have absolutely nothing to say about that. I am not saying that. What I am saying was that the person running the school, Sr. Pietrina, would have said to me one day, and she was a long time in the school, “all the money I ever handled while I was in the School was the money for the dripping”.
Sr Alida described Sr Bianca as a woman with a forceful personality: I am saying it now with gratitude in my heart to her, she was a very controlling person, she could achieve things that I would never have done. I would have started in Goldenbridge if I were in her shoes doing a very different thing. I would have started looking for money to buy knickers and vests for the children. She saw the bigger facilities. They matched her personality. She got the walk-in fridge, she got two big steamers, the hotels wouldn’t have them at that time, the kind she got. She had massive immediate improvements in the School, massive. She didn’t see the need for changing the blankets or changing their homemade knickers. The School wouldn’t have advanced as much as they did only for the power she had.
Sr Alida spoke at length about the changes that Sr Bianca introduced into Goldenbridge Industrial School immediately upon her appointment. In many ways, these changes speak more of the regime that existed before Sr Bianca’s appointment than anything else. They point to a management which had been so poor and so negligent that the children could not possibly have received even a minimum standard of care.
Sr Alida vividly described the problem tackled by Sr Bianca which had reached crisis proportions at the time of her appointment. The Institution had been allowed to deteriorate into an appalling condition and Sr Bianca tackled these problems energetically.
Similarly, the provision of education was extraordinarily poor at that time. Sr Bianca had to get basic equipment for the schoolroom. There were only two untrained lay teachers, and they were there in the dual capacity of carers and teachers. Sr Alida said: ... I never asked and I have no idea how they taught the 150 children of a school going age or how schooling was managed, but there was a programme for industrial school girls over 13 years of age. Everyday, five days a week, they had domestic training, cooking, laundry and dressmaking after 12.30 , after the lunch hour.
Sr Alida described a lack of any facilities in the classroom. Only two of the four classrooms in Goldenbridge appeared to be in use. This led her to believe that no other Sister from the convent was actively engaged in teaching in Goldenbridge in the years prior to her arrival with Sr Bianca. She confirmed that Sr Pietrina did not teach.
For the first few weeks of her time in Goldenbridge, the efforts of both Sr Alida and Sr Bianca were concentrated on the children’s health and dealing with the medical conditions that they found there. Once these medical problems had been brought under control, schooling was resumed.
Sr Alida went on to describe the extremely primitive conditions in the Industrial School generally. It appeared that the only washing machines were so old and ineffective that they were not used, and all the washing for the 150 children was done by hand. She said the machines were eventually re-serviced and brought into use, but that they were always ineffective and it took a long time to wash the clothes.
Sr Alida said that the older girls did all the domestic chores in the house.
When Sr Bianca left Goldenbridge in June 1954, Sr Laurella10 took over as Resident Manager, although Sr Alida, who arrived in Goldenbridge on the same day as Sr Bianca, was the effective Manager of the Industrial School from 1954 until she left in 1963.