Father James Nugent (1822-1905)

painting of man in religious robes

Father Nugent's importance to the generations of Liverpool people who followed him is immense. He saw the deprivation suffered by the people of the city and did something to help by highlighting the issues facing them and encouraging those with power, money and influence to help. His work is continued today through the work of Nugent Care - his lasting legacy to the people of Liverpool.

Father James Nugent was born in Hunter Street, Liverpool on 3 March 1822. He was the eldest of nine children born to John and Mary Nugent. At that time educational facilities for Catholics were few, so he was educated at a private school under the patronage of Reverend James Picton of Christ Church, Liverpool.

His family wanted James to pursue a business career but instead he chose to train for the priesthood and in 1838 went to the College of St Cuthbert, Usher. After 5 years there he went to the English College, Rome and was ordained as a priest at St Nicholas', Liverpool in 1846. On New Year's Day 1849, after serving in parishes in Blackburn and Wigan, Father Nugent was back at St Nicholas' Parish as their curate.

Living conditions in Liverpool in the 1840s were terrible. There was great poverty and sickness and thousands of children were homeless. Father Nugent decided to do something about this situation.

In 1849 he opened a Ragged School at Copperas Hill to take homeless children off the streets offering them shelter, food and clothing. Father Nugent also brought the teaching order of Notre Dame to the city to staff the Catholic Poor Law Schools.

Later a night shelter and refuge giving homeless boys food and lodging was established, but in 1867 with over 48,000 boys receiving supper and 3,000 a night's lodging, Father Nugent realised that more was needed. It was clear that a residential school was essential. The Boys' Refuge (a certified Industrial School) was opened in 1869 teaching shoe making, tailoring, joinery and printing, which continued until 1923.

As well as accommodation Father Nugent was keen to provide educational opportunities. It only took him two years to raise the money and lay the foundation stone for the Catholic Institute in Hope Street. There was no such resource in the city when he went to school. He was appointed Director of the Institute and lived at 26 Hope Street until 1863. This work is continued to this day through St Edward's College.

Another concern of Father Nugent was the fate of women after their discharge from prison. He had seen first hand the need to provide support for women on their release during his 22 years chaplincy at Walton Prison. Father Nugent persuaded the Order of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God to establish a refuge to help such women.

Some years later a home for mothers and their babies, the House of Providence, was established in Dingle. In its first year Father Nugent reported that 33 mothers and their babies had found shelter there.

Father Nugent also pioneered child emigration to Canada from 1870, an activity that continued until 1930. In 1880 he took over 300 people from Galway to a new life in St Paul's, Minnesota, USA.

Father Nugent and the continuing work of Nugent Care was featured in a Liverpool lives display at the former Museum of Liverpool Life during July 2005.

The display, organised with the help of Nugent Care, featured a bust and portrait of Father Nugent along with memorabilia including some of his handwritten letters, personal admin papers, photographs and contemporary periodicals.

Images provided courtesy of the Nugent Care Society|.

photograph of large group of boys on the deck of a ship. Most are looking over the side and waving and some have climbed up the rigging to get a better view

Some of Nugent Care's children leaving Liverpool for a new life in the new world in the 1920s. Father Nugent took the first group of 24 children to Canada on 18 August 1870 on the SS Austrian.