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Faith Sisters

Caroline Smith confuses me: she was obviously a member of our Third Order, but equally I knew no member was called Caroline. We have very little information about the Sisters who joined the Third Order: we don’t know their surnames, but only the names they were known by in Community, each one with ‘faith’ added as a second name; and we know the day they died – but, at the moment, I don’t have the year, although I’m fairly sure that information exists somewhere. There is no Sr Caroline Faith; yet, as far as I can make out, Caroline Smith died as a member of the Third Order.

One of my first tasks was to identify, where possible, members of the third order from Census returns, which had their surnames, and birth details. It is interesting to see the development of the information detailing their relationship with the Community. In both 1881 and 1891, Caroline Smith is down as a servant, and at that stage, I might have assumed that was what she was. But other women, whom I was more certain were Third Order, were also down as servants. Come 1901, the information has changed: Caroline – along with others – is down as ‘worker’ and ‘Serving Sister’, enough information for me to identify them as Third Order Sisters. It was with great rejoicing that I discovered them in 1911 as ‘member of Community’, although still distinguished by their occupation as ‘worker’ rather than ‘Sister of Mercy’ (as the rest of us are). This does help me to identify them, especially as most used their baptismal names. So Sr Phyllis Faith’s baptismal name was Phyllis, as Sr Ellen Faith’s was Ellen and Sr Irene Faith’s was Irene. I am fairly confident that I have identified these women, and I hope to be able to find out more of their stories in time.

To give some background, our Third Order was initially called the Order of Repentance, and later changed to Third Order. It was for women who had been at our House of Mercy [where fallen women were taken in, trained as Domestic Servants, and taught to live Christian lives]. The Order of Repentance was for those women who felt called to live their lives with the Community. Whether all the Third Order were at our House of Mercy, or whether some had been at similar institutions elsewhere, I am uncertain at the moment. The Order was always small, and died out in the 1950s; it was very much of its’ time.

Back to Caroline Smith: all the information I was gathering from the Census said to me that she was a member of the Third Order. Yet all the information I was getting also seemed to say that the Third Order used their baptismal names, and Caroline Smith didn’t. Obviously, some Sisters have more than one name, and many used their middle names. Yet this is usually shown on the census, and there is no sign of Caroline having a middle name. But – and this is very important – she is the only one of the Third Order who I have so far positively identified as attending the House of Mercy, because she was there in 1871, and her presence is marked in the census. I will, at some point, check the register, to affirm the presence of those girls I think are Third Order.

What I also know positively about Caroline Smith is that she spent many years at All Hallows Hospital, down in the village from the Convent, along with various Sisters. Sister Augusta and Sr Margaret (the second of that name, not the present one) also spent many years there, but Caroline Smith was there before them, when Sr Mary Sophia was running it. She is present at the Hospital in every Census between 1881 and 1911, and I haven’t yet seen the 1921 Census to check this. In 1891, she is down as the cook, and this may be what she spent her life doing. An Important task for a hospital, especially one with a varied clientele. There were wards for what were known as ‘incurables’ as well as wards for patients with curable illnesses. The Hospital leads to the only clue I have for who Caroline Smith might be. In the 1920s, there is a Rachel Smith in the electoral register for the Hospital. She doesn’t appear in 1929, or the early 1930s – when Caroline Smith does appear. It is a very vague identification, especially based on such a common surname (Rachel Smith may well have been a lay member of staff). And yet … we did have a Sister Rachel Faith, whose identity I haven’t discovered. No Rachel appears among the census records.

But … no member of the Third Order who joined after 1911 will appear in the census records, until I can check the 1921 census. Sr Rachel Faith may well be one of the later members. Although I have no idea when the last entrant joined, it may well have been after 1911, although I would be surprised if it was much later. Sr Rachel Faith died on the 16th December, I am not yet certain of the year. Caroline Smith died in October – December 1936, in the Loddon district (which would include the Convent and Hospital). At the moment, it seems likely the two may be the same, but it is equally possible that they are not. It should be possible to check with certainty the year of Sr Rachel Faith’s death, and the date of Caroline Smith’s, to see if the two coincide.

While it is interesting to discover more about these women, and it helps to establish more firmly their largely hidden part in our history, what ultimately matters is the name the each took on: Faith. Faith they came to, after a checkered past; faith they committed to in the not always easy life in CAH; a faith that reflects their repentance of the past (which, to be honest, may not always have been their fault – but that is another story); a faith which caused them to live with the Community that nurtured them, and where they gave so much to its’ ongoing mission; faith in the God who saved them. Whatever brought them to the House of Mercy in the first place may well have been a cause of shame; yet each Faith Sister followed their call, and did not allow that shame to bind them. They had faith in the God who saves, who forgives, who calls us to follow on towards that future to which we are called.

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