225th Anniversary of Celebrating Mass at New Hall School

Date Posted: Friday 09 February 2024

On Saturday 3 February, New Hall celebrated Mass to mark the exact anniversary of the first Mass celebrated at New Hall following the arrival of the founding Religious Community, the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, in 1799.

The Canonesses journey had been one of excitement, radical education, and secrecy. At a time when girls were denied a Catholic education in England, they were sent to Liège to board with the Religious Community, founded in 1642. However, the French Revolutionary wars forced them back to England, where they moved into the Tudor Palace of Beaulieu, intent on moving their school and providing a Catholic education to girls from around Europe and the UK. “It was not a simple task, as students now had to be smuggled into the country. The sisters used the code name ‘fishes’ to cover up the real contents of the boats arriving on the English shores. This secret led to students across the decades to being referred to as ‘Fishes’, with alumni becoming ‘Old Fishes’ as they left the School,” explained Mr Andrew Fardell, Deputy Principal of New Hall School. In honour of this distinguished history, at the 225th Anniversary Mass, it was announced that the School will be returning to this tradition, renaming its alumni association the Old Fishes Association.

“The 225th Anniversary Mass was a historic and emotional event for the Community. Returning to New Hall for such an occasion gave us all a reason to reflect with gratitude on the past and to remember with awe the courageous and intrepid faith of our forebears,” said Sister Moira, the Prioress of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre. Students, staff, members of the Religious Community, Old Fishes, and friends gathered to celebrate and sing praise. “Let us build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live – the words of the opening hymn could be taken as the inspiration of those sisters who first set foot into New Hall to begin a new era for Community and School life in 1799.  It certainly reflects the values that inspired Community leadership of the School over many generations – to foster a place where all are valued, loved, and respected, a place where Gospel values are paramount,” shared Sister Moira.

For 225 years, New Hall has provided a much-appreciated service to the local community, as it offered the opportunities of celebrating the Sacraments of Baptism, first Holy Communion, Confirmation, funerals and, more recently, weddings. In 2003, Fr Dan Mason became the first priest to be ordained in New Hall Chapel. In 2021, Fr Michael Barwick celebrated his first Mass as an ordained priest at New Hall, with many local residents, students, and staff members in attendance. Similarly, in service of the community, in July 2023, nearly 50 children from the Chelmsford Deanery churches of St Augustine, Holy Name and Our Lady Immaculate celebrated a Mass to mark their first Holy Communion at New Hall School, followed by a large celebration with their families at the front of the former palace.