St. Joseph’s Church included a crypt and outhouses which was converted into two schools – one for boys and the other for girls with a large patio, also divided, to serve as school playgrounds. This school was in addition to another school established in 1858 in an old barracks building in New Mole Parade, opposite the Dockyard South Gate. This was a higher educational establishment known as St. Bernard’s College which offered secondary education to young men. This college would transfer five years to another building in Europa Main Road9, on grounds presently occupied by Mount Alvernia. Scandella had also purchased the extensive grounds beneath the college which consisted of a house, gardens, orchard and two large storehouses which he converted into a convent and school for girls – today’s Loreto Convent.
Until then, most Catholic children were educated in either Methodist or Protestant schools and continued to do so even after the creation of these, and other, Catholic schools. However, a very public spat between Dr. Macauliffe, Scandella’s secretary, and the Anglican Civil Chaplain, the Venerable Archdeacon Sleeman over the education of Catholic children in Anglican schools in 1865 resulted in Dr. Scandella issuing a Sacred Edict in which he forbade Catholic parents to send their children to Protestant schools. This pressure forced many parents to withdraw their children from these schools10 with those in the South District being enrolled in the new St. Joseph’s school run by Mother Scholastica Taylor.
In 1873, Mother Agnes Fitzgerald, a trained National School teacher, arrived in Gibraltar and joined Mother Scholastica Taylor at St Joseph’s. A small piece of the extra classroom given to the nuns by Father Femenías was boarded off to make a place in which the Sisters could at last take their lunch instead of fasting from breakfast until school broke up for the day. Father Femenías also gave them a small patio which the girls could use as a playground.
1873 was also the year that the Christian Brothers arrived in Gibraltar for the second time. Two years later Brother Virgilius Jones took over the teaching of the boys at St Joseph’s, while Mother Scholastica continued teaching the girls there, now with Mother Agnes, until 1879.11
Nevertheless, the early years in the life of the new church were defined by its Spartan surroundings. The church furniture consisted of three provisional altars, a Holy Cross of Christ, two small images of Our Lord and a dozen small benches for benefit of the congregation.12