Sr Kate was one of those Sisters who dedicated her life to only one of our works; a lay Sister, she is found at the House of Mercy in all official documents that I can find. She died there, quite suddenly, in the early hours of 7th December 1930, aged 56, after 32 years in the Community. If I’ve traced them correctly, both her parents died early as well, her father Robert dying in 1878, aged 39 and her mother, Jane, in 1891, aged 51. Robert certainly died sometime in the 1870s, as he is found in the 1871 census with Jane and their 4 children, but by 1881, Jane is a widow. Sadly, two of her children also died by then: their son, Eastland, aged 7, in 1873, and a daughter, Katie, in 1871, just a baby. Two more children were born in the same years: Edith, in 1873, and Katie in 1875, who seems to have been named after her deceased older sister. Katie may have barely remembered her father, who had certainly died by the time she was 6. I don’t know how her mother managed financially: in 1881, she is an annuitant; in 1891, she has her own means, but also has 3 boarders living with her, suggesting that she needed the extra money. At this stage all 4 of her surviving children were living with her; I think the two older girls, Annie and Janie, both married in 1892. Presumably either one or both took responsibility for their two younger sisters, only in their teens when their mother died. Edith married in 1895, and a couple of years later Katie moved to Norfolk to join the Community of All Hallows, becoming Sr Kate. (As far as I can tell, her name was Katie rather than Kate, but maybe the Community preferred Kate). The picture is of a group of Sisters, shortly before Katie joined the Community; the two Sisters in white veils are lay novices.
Professed on St Thomas day in 1900 (which I think would have been kept in December at that point), she was working in the House of Mercy by 1901. The House of Mercy took in fallen women, taught them to live Christian lives, and trained them as domestic servants; girls were found a job on leaving the home, usually after about 2 years, and given a uniform. Many of these girls were only in their teens and early twenties, and the nature of the work may well have changed over the time Sr Kate worked there. Certainly, she would have seen many girls come and go, and I wonder whether her own background may have given her an insight that helped her in her work. I know at least some of the girls had lost a parent themselves. What she actually did in the House of Mercy, I do not know, although the 1921 Census says “general duties with the girls”. She is the only Sister who is working in the House of Mercy in all three censuses (1901, 1911 and 1921), although some of the Sisters in 1921 were working there in 1901; I imagine she may have provided a point of continuity for those girls that kept in touch with the House after they left.
As a lay Sister, she would have attended fewer services than the choir sisters, and had less responsibility. Lay Sisters could not be in charge of a work, and could only hold lesser offices; they had less time for prayer, although they had a share in the work. This division, which may well have been appropriate when the Community was founded in the 1850s, became less so as time went on. Lay Sisters had no say in the governance of the Community; they didn’t even have a vote in the election of a Reverend Mother, until they asked for this in the 1920s. There was much discussion in the Community about the distinction, although it wasn’t finally brought to an end until 1944. But higher standards of education meant women were entering as choir Sisters, who would previously have been lay Sisters, and there was some disquiet about.
Sr Kate was not the only Sister to be professed in 1900; indeed, she was not the only Sister professed on St Thomas day. Sr Augusta, a choir Sister who was in charge of All Hallows Hospital for many years, was professed in January; Sr Eleanor, a choir Sister whom I’ve written about before, and Sr Eliza, a lay Sister who spent most of her life in Refuge work in Norwich, were both Professed with Sr Kate on St Thomas’ day. Sr Eliza and Sr Kate may well have known some of the same girls, for the refuge where Sr Eliza worked (St Augustine’s Lodge) was a kind of ‘halfway house’ for the House of Mercy, and girls usually spent some time there before moving on to Ditchingham, or another similar house elsewhere. While we would approach these matters very differently nowadays, the girls these Sisters cared for were in need of help, and the Community gave it as best they could.
Sr Kate’s dedication to these girls, and how she helped them, can only be imagined now; the commitment to a continuing stream of troubled teenagers may well have been hard work. A work that she always did in harness with other Sisters, as well as members of our third order. For while we are called to serve and follow our Lord, we are not called to do so in isolation, but with others; not building our own kingdom, but helping to build God’s kingdom, where we are and how we can. The details of how Sr Kate did this may now have been lost to history; but they are not lost to God.