In 1879, at the request of Fr O’Shaughnessy, the parish priest, the first Religious in the Diocese of Galloway since the reformation arrived in Girvan. They were Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, members of a French Congregation founded in 1807 by Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey, the first woman missionary. The Sisters were given lodging in the presbytery that the parish priest had kindly handed over to them.
Fr O’Shaughnessy needed teachers for the modest school he had opened. The people were poor, mainly hourly paid workers. The Sisters had to work hard to overcome opposition and dispel prejudices. As well as providing an education for the Catholic children, they also cared for the orphaned and abandoned. In 1881, the boarding school had its beginnings, when twenty five destitute children were taken in to be looked after by the sisters.
In 1889 a new primary school was built and the roll continued to grow with more and more local children availing themselves of the opportunities for education. Jobs were created for both teaching and domestic staff. Eventually both schools were accorded government recognition, which assured many material advantages. Both primary and secondary schools grew to full capacity during the two world wars and afterwards. Many of the girls remained on as boarders, and a new block was built to accommodate them.
A large estate at Kildonan, Barrhill, was purchased as a junior boarding school. This flourished until 1975, when it was closed due to lack of personnel and difficulty in attracting suitable teaching staff. The day primary had for some time been transferred across the road to another building in Henrietta Street, where it is to this day.
The secondary school had been raised to the status of academy. Many of its past pupils have become Priests and Religious in the church. Unfortunately falling roles resulted in the closing of the Sacred Heart Academy in 1991. The Sisters were left with a large empty building, and the whole property was developed into twenty one and two bedroomed flats by C & F Mitchell. A smaller residence adjoining the church was retained for the Sisters. The red sandstone building has retained its special features and characteristics including the statue of St Joseph high up on the side wall, facing down Henrietta Street.
The Sisters, in much reduced numbers, remain active in the local community, caring for the sick and visiting the elderly and housebound.