Two of the earliest Sisters I researched had not only the same surname, but also the same birthplace. Surely that must be more than co-incidence? Both Sr Mary Rose (pictured, in the black veil, I think) and Sr Alice were born in Debenham, Suffolk, and further investigation showed that they were birth sisters, daughters of Mark and Louisa Wade of White Hall, Debenham. By 1851, the family had moved to Boughton [Broughton?] Hall, Stonham Aspall, Suffolk, where Mark was the owner of 500 acres, occupier of 305 acres and employed 13 labourers. Living with Mark and Louisa, were their (at that point) seven children, a lodger, 5 servants and a governess. It gives the impression of quite a prosperous household, so it was strange to find them in 1861, still in Stonham Aspall but in what seems to be a cottage; there are more children, and several of the family are staying or living with friends and relations. What had happened?
With his farm losing money, Mark had become insolvent; the farm and furniture had been sold, and Mark attributed his misfortune not only to losses in farming but also his large family, and the illness of his wife. This happened in the late 1850s or early 1860s, and must have had quite an impact on the whole family. The oldest son, also Mark, had emigrated to Canada by the time of 1861 Census, and the oldest daughter (also Louisa) is acting as governess for her younger siblings. What happened over the course of the 1860s is uncertain; the family had some sort of income, for in 1861 they were still employing 3 servants. But some events are clear: around 1865, Mary Rose, the fourth child, joined the Community of All Hallows, taking her vows in 1867. 1867 was also the year Louisa married Charles Hunt, who worked for most of his life as a commercial traveller. 1867 may have been the year when the third child, Elizabeth Alice, joined the Community, taking her middle name. She made her vows in 1869. Both Sisters are among the very early women to join the Community. It seems likely that it was at some point after this that the rest of the family emigrated, initially to join the younger Mark in Canada, where they are found in 1871. I can’t decipher Mark senior’s occupation, but two of his younger sons were law students, so his income at that point must have been enough to support them.
Mark and Louisa Wade had at least 12 children, born between 1840 and 1860. Only three didn’t emigrate. Louisa, married to Charles, stayed, living in London; Sr Mary Rose stayed, in Norfolk and a third daughter, Emily, seems to have died in 1861. With the exception of Sr Alice, all the rest were in Canada by 1871, although many later moved to the US. Without that bankruptcy, I can only imagine it likely that the family would have remained in England, that the children’s lives would have been very different, and the older ones, at least, may have had different opportunities. But the bankruptcy did happen. How much did it affect the decision of Sr Mary Rose and Sr Alice to join the Community? We may never know. Sr Mary Rose is among the more well-known Sisters of the Community. Along with Sr Mary Sophia, she was one of the first five Sisters professed in CAH, one of whom didn’t stay. She spent her life working at various houses on the Ditchingham site, spending many years at the House of Mercy, although she may also have been Sister in Charge at the Orphanage for some time. In 1899, tragedy struck the Community when our Superior died, aged only 58. Sr Lucy was the third Superior to die in under ten years, so whoever took over would have needed a steady hand and good health. Sr Mary Rose was elected, and remained in charge for 16 years, retiring in June 1917. She was the first Superior of the Community to step down from Office, and this, too, would have needed much wisdom, especially as she seems to have remained in the Community House. She died, suddenly, in June 1931, aged 85 and after 66 years in religion, leaving behind very few Sisters who could remember those early days.
What of Sr Alice? The sharp eyed among you may have noted that she was not among the three children I listed as not emigrating. Sr Alice spent just under twenty years in the Community, before leaving in 1885. Why, I do not know. While the Census doesn’t suggest that she ever worked in the same house as her younger sister, that is not an impossibility. Did she miss her family overseas? Did she find she was living under the brighter light of Sr Mary Rose? She may have come to the conclusion that she had made a mistake, or she may have felt called on. Life changes us, and sometimes those changes affect decisions made whilst we are young. Be that as it may, Sr Alice left the Community, which would have caused the Sisters much distress, but may well have been the best option for her. Whether she went abroad immediately, or whether she spent some time in England first, I don’t know. She next appears in California in August 1893, where she marries an older man, Henry Jarvis. Alice’s younger brother, Charles, lived nearby, and it may have been this connection that introduced her to Henry. She died in 1916.
It would be easy to see Sr Mary Rose as the ‘successful’ Sister, staying in the Community and spending some time as leader, with Sr Alice as the ‘unsuccessful’ one, leaving after committing to stay for life. But this would be simplistic. Both Sisters dedicated their lives to God; there is no evidence to suggest that Alice’s faith was any less when she left; her vocation may have simply changed. Following God takes us in mysterious ways and different directions; both sisters had major decisions to make: Sr Mary Rose as Reverend Mother, and Sr Alice when she decided the time had come for her to move on. It would have taken great courage. Following God is not an easy option, but it may well lead in unexpected directions.