'A CHAPLET OF VERSES'
PUBLISHED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PROVIDENCE
REFUGE FOR HOMELESS WOMEN
AND CHILDREN, 1862.
THERE is scarcely any charitable institution which
should excite such universal, such unhesitating sympathy as a Night Refuge
for the Homeless Poor.
A shelter through the bleak winter nights, leave to rest in some poor shed
instead of wandering through the pitiless streets, is a boon we could
hardly deny to a starving dog.
And yet we have all known that in this country, in this town, many of our
miserable fellow-creatures were pacing the streets through the long weary
nights, without a roof to
shelter them, without food to eat, with their poor rags soaked in rain,
and only the bitter winds of Heaven for companions; women and children
utterly forlorn and helpless,
either wandering about all night, or crouching under a miserable archway,
or, worst of all, seeking in death or sin the refuge denied them
elsewhere. It is a marvel that we
could sleep in peace in our warm comfortable homes with this horror at our
But at last some efforts were made to efface this stain upon our country,
public sympathy was appealed to, and a few 'Refuges' were opened, to
shelter our homeless poor
through the winter nights.
In the Autumn of 1860 there was no Catholic Refuge in the kingdom; and
excellent as were the Protestant Refuges, their resources were quite
inadequate to meet the claims
In this country, as we all know, the very poorest and most destitute are
in many cases Catholics; and doubtless our Priests, to whom no form of sin
or sorrow is strange,
must see in a special manner, and in innumerable results, the sufferings,
dangers, and temptations of the homeless. The Rev. Dr. Gilbert therefore
resolved to open a
Catholic Night Refuge in his parish, and to his zealous charity and
unwearied efforts are due the foundation and success of the PROVIDENCE
NIGHT REFUGE FOR HOMELESS
WOMEN AND CHILDREN; the first Catholic Refuge in
England or Ireland, and still the only one in England.
The Sisters of Mercy had long been aiding their pastors in the schools of
the parish, and when this new opening for their charity was suggested to
them, they unhesitatingly accepted a task, worthy indeed of the holy name
they bear. They were seeking for some house more suitable for a Convent
than the one they had hitherto occupied in Broad Street, and when Dr. Gilbert saw the large stable at the back of 14 Finsbury Square, he felt
that here was a suitable place for his long cherished plan of a Night
Refuge. It was separated from the house by a yard, and opened on a narrow
street at the back, already called, with a happy appropriateness,
Providence Row. To Finsbury Square, therefore, the community removed, and
it was not long before the stable was fitted up with wooden beds and
benches, the few preparations were completed, and on the 7th of October,
1860, the Refuge was opened. At first there were but fourteen beds, but
contributions flowed in from Protestants as well as Catholics, and in
February, 1861, thirty-one more beds were added, making in all forty-five. But as many of the poor women have children with them, rarely less than
sixty persons are each night admitted. Up to the present time, fourteen
thousand seven hundred and eighty-five nights' lodgings have been given,
with the same number of suppers and breakfasts.
From six to eight are the hours of admission; but this is indeed a
needless rule, for a crowd of ragged women, with pale, weary children
clinging to them, are patiently waiting long before the doors are opened,
and the place is filled at once.
Means for washing are given them, they rest themselves in warmth, light,
and peace, and at eight o'clock each person receives half a pound of bread
and a large basin of excellent gruel. Night prayers are said by one of the
Sisters, and then the poor wanderers lie down in their rude but clean and
comfortable beds. They have the same meal in the morning.
Those who come on Saturday evening remain till Monday, receiving on
Sunday, besides the usual breakfast and supper, an extra half-pound of
bread, and a good supply of meat soup. There is no distinction of creed;
Protestants and Catholics are alike admitted. There are but two conditions
of admittance—that the applicants be homeless and of good character. This
is the only Refuge which makes character a condition; and it is found
that, in spite of all precautions, much harm arises in the other Refuges
to the young and innocent, from the bad language and evil example of the
degraded class with whom they are brought in contact.
Each evening (and on Sundays more fully) simple instructions on the
Catechism are given by one of the Sisters; but this the Protestants do not
attend; they frequently ask leave to be present, but it is not permitted
(without the special permission of one of the clergy), as the instructions
on the practice of our faith would be to them comparatively useless and
unmeaning. The temporary shelter and food which is given in Providence
Row, is not the only, perhaps often not the greatest, benefit bestowed
upon the poor forlorn inmates. They find advice, sympathy, and help from
the kind Sisters; and the very telling their troubles to one who is there
to serve and tend them, not for any earthly reward, but from Christian
love and pity, must be a rest to their weary hearts, a comfort in their
sore want and distress. It is touching to see their eager desire to be
allowed to help the Sister in the cleaning, cooking, &c., and the
half-ashamed thankfulness with which they watch her busied in their
One of the Nuns sleeps every night in the refuge, and no unruly sound, no
whisper of murmur or disrespect, ever rises against her gentle sway. Nay,
even more, when she has the sad task of selecting among the waiting crowd
the number who may enter, choosing generally those with children and those
who have not applied before, the rest submit without a murmur. Though the
little ones are hardly counted, but creep in by their mothers' sides,
there are still many—sometimes thirty or forty nightly—turned away for
want of space. They have had a glimpse of warmth and light, and then it is
the cruel office of the kind Nun to bar the door against them; but no
angry word, no remonstrance, meets her sorrowful refusal; they turn once
more to their weary wanderings in the dark bleak streets. And so will many
have to do, night after night, until the Refuge is enlarged. The present
space will hold no more beds, but to build an additional dormitory is the
earnest desire and intention of Dr. Gilbert.
No salaries are received by any who have charge of the Refuge. Among the
many causes for gratitude we have to our good Religious, surely it is not
one of the least that what we can spare in the cause of charity goes
solely and directly to its object; the more difficult and more perfect
share of the good work being taken by them out of love to God and His
The Refuge is open from the month of October to April.
It is placed under the special patronage of our Blesséd Lady, and
Blessed Benedict Labré.
May the Mother who wandered homeless through inhospitable Bethlehem, and
the Saint who was a beggar and an outcast upon the face of the earth,
watch over this Refuge for the poor and desolate, and obtain from the
charity of the faithful the aid which it so sorely needs.
I may add, that donations for the Refuge will be thankfully received by
the Rev. Dr. Gilbert, 22 Finsbury Circus, or by the Rev. Mother, at the
Convent, 14 Finsbury Square, E.C.
We all meditate long and often on the many kinds of sufferings borne for us
by our Blessèd Redeemer; but perhaps if
consider a moment, we shall most of us confess, that the one we think of
least often, the one we compassionate
least of all, is the only one of which He deigned to tell us Himself, and
for which He Himself appealed to our pity in the Divine complaint, 'The
foxes have holes, and the birds
of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay his head.'
A. A. P.