Born 3 March 1822 – Died 27 June 1905
A pioneer for the relief of poverty
Monsignor James Nugent was a pioneer for child welfare, poverty relief and social reform whose lasting legacy continues through the work of the charity Nugent Care, which operates throughout Merseyside and the North West. Born in Hunter Street, Liverpool, James turned away from the career in business that his family had planned for him, instead training as a priest. He was ordained at St Nicholas’s in Liverpool, where he had been baptised, in 1846.
Life in Liverpool was bleak in the 1840s. Huge numbers of Irish people had moved to the city as a result of the Potato Famine. The poor lived in close quarters, were uneducated and ill-nourished, so disease was rife. Horrified by the life of poverty they endured, Father Nugent concentrated his efforts for the rest of his life on encouraging those with prestige, money and influence to help the deprived. As curate of St Nicholas’s, he first opened a Ragged School in Spitalfields in 1849, followed by a night shelter and refuge, for which there was clearly a massive demand. It’s said that in 1867, 48,000 boys received an evening meal and 3,000 had a night’s lodging there. As a result, Father Nugent opened The Boys’ Refuge, a residential school teaching shoe-making, tailoring, joinery and printing. Between its opening in 1865 and its closure over half a decade later, 2,000 boys learned a trade here.
His work as the first appointed Catholic chaplain to Walton Gaol, a position he held for 22 years, spurred him on to oversee the opening of a refuge to help women released from prison in 1891. He also established a home for mothers and babies and promoted the use of Penny Savings Banks to help the poor set aside money when they could for hard times. His League of the Cross for Total Abstinence spread across the world, as far as India and Australia, and he helped many destitute Liverpool people to emigrate abroad in search of a better life.
He was made a Monsignor in 1890 and was held in such high esteem by the citizens of Liverpool that on 5 May 1897, he was presented with a portrait of himself at a public meeting which was attended by thousands.
He died aged 83 at the Harewood House, Formby from pneumonia, following a bad fall on RMS Oceanic on his return from a trip abroad. His funeral was huge, with thousands coming to pay their last respects as he was buried in Ford Cemetery; and on 8 December 1906, a statue of him was erected in St Johns Gardens, Liverpool, commemorating all he had achieved in his lifetime as an:
“Apostle of Temperance, Protector of the Orphan Child, Consoler of the Prisoner, Reformer of the Criminal, Saviour of Fallen Womanhood, Friend of all in Poverty and Affliction, An Eye to the Blind, a Foot to the Lame, the Father of the Poor”.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.