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Given - Sr Lenora

Sr Lenora wasn’t exactly late for her own funeral, but it did happen later than intended. She died on January 17th 1945, and it was arranged that the coffin be brought over on January 19th for the funeral the next day. But that January was a very cold one, and a blizzard meant that the roads were unsafe for travelling, so the funeral was postponed until Monday 22nd. The snow was so deep that only a few Sisters went to the Cemetery for the burial (at that point still Ditchingham Cemetery, just down the road from the Convent).

Sr Lenora had been in Heigham Hall Mental Home since May 1937, when the doctors had ordered her to be under mental supervision; she had a brief period back at home later that year, but obviously needed more support than we could provide, so returned to Heigham Hall, where she remained until her death. She had been failing for three months, and M. Flora was able to see her before she lost consciousness a few days before she died. Sr Mary Elizabeth was also resident at Heigham Hall when Sr Lenora went there (see Blog ‘Suffered’ May 2nd 2023), so it was a place the Sisters knew. Unlike Sr Mary Elizabeth, Sr Lenora only spent the last years of her life there. Why? I have no idea, but I wonder if it was a form of dementia, given that it occurred in her later years.

Susan Lenora Christian Henslow was born in 1865 in Pulham St Mary, Norfolk, where her father, Leonard, was the perpetual curate. Lenora only spent her earliest years in Norfolk, as her father moved to become Rector of Zeals, Wiltshire in 1871, where he stayed for over 40 years. In 1881, Lenora is living there with her parents, Leonard and Susan, her six siblings and several servants. Whether the connection with our Community went back to Leonard’s time in Norfolk, or whether it was a later connection, I do not know. Neither do I know Lenora’s parents’ reaction to her vocation; many parents disapproved of their daughters joining a Sisterhood, but it seems that Lenora’s parents may not have objected: Sr Lenora was professed in 1887, when she would only have been in her early twenties, and may well have needed her parents’ permission and approval in order to leave home and join us. Moreover, in 1895, Leonard makes his own appearance in Community history. That was the year the Convent Chapel, built in memory of M. Lavinia, was dedicated, and it was kept with an Octave (8 days) of services. The preacher on the Sunday in the Octave was the Reverend Leonard R. Henslow, of Zeals, Bath.

In 1891, Sr Lenora was working at the House of Mercy, although I’m not sure how long she may have spent there. We know she spent many years in the Embroidery room at the Community House, and may well have gone there fairly early on. What I know for a fact is that she had a weak constitution, and in 1901 had to spend some time away from the Community, recovering from a bout of ill health. This is confirmed in both the 1901 census, where she is staying with George Cook, a priest, and his wife Diana in the New Forest; and also in M. Adele’s letters, where we have a lengthy letter from M. Adele to Sr Lenora. This letter makes it clear that staying with friends, as opposed to family, was unusual, but the state of Sr Lenora’s health warranted the deviation. That some physical breakdown had occurred is also clear: M. Adele says that she may go to Evening Service, as the church is so near and if she will take proper precautions as to weather, wraps etc. There is obviously some concern that Sr Lenora may catch cold, and put her recovery back a few weeks. It seems that Sr Lenora needed a generous diet, and was not able to keep the Community’s practice fasting in Lent. (This probably meant a restriction in diet, rather than no food at all). She had tried Lent fasting, but her health broke down each time; M. Adele is strict on the fact that this practice does not work for Sr Lenora, and she is not to try it. She has the comfort of knowing that “obedience is better than sacrifice”, M. Adele writes. They hope that Sr Lenora can come back to them for Holy Week, and the letter includes spiritual advice, in response to letters from Sr Lenora. It ends with a greeting to Sr Lenora’s parents, and asks if her mother knows of anyone who could be a matron, needed for the Rescue Hospital; another indication that relations between them were positive.

By 1911, Sr Lenora is resident at the Community House, and may well have lived there since she had returned in 1901. She remained there until she moved to Heigham Hall in 1937. That she was one of the embroidery Sisters, I have already mentioned. The Embroidery room focused on Church embroidery, and the Community was privileged to have many items made there for use in the Chapels; pieces were also made for churches elsewhere. Embroidery wasn’t Sr Lenora’s only task: between 1923 and 1926 she was Assistant Superior, during M. Ann Mary’s last years as Reverend Mother. What else she may have done is unknown; the work of the Sisters resident at the Community House is less obvious than those living and working in a house used for a specific purpose. It would obviously have included the services, prayer and reading expected of any Sister.

That Sr Lenora had times of struggle during her life in CAH is not unusual; it seems that the Community was able to be flexible enough so that she managed to live her life there, without her health breaking down completely, something underlined by her time as Assistant. It is sad that she was not able to remain at the Convent until her death, but hopefully was well cared for at Heigham Hall, and in a situation which would have understood whatever she was going through mentally. Sr Lenora gave her life to God at a young age, and her 60 years in religion (dating from her Clothing) was a life given to God, both the good times, and the struggles. That givenness did not come to an end when she was no longer able to work, or when she had to go to Heigham Hall; it did not come to an end if her mental state meant that she could no longer pray or read. The giving of a life to God continues throughout, becoming deeper no doubt as time goes on, and never perfect in its giving, but endures whatever the outward circumstances. The giving of our lives to God includes what we do; but it is far more about who we are in God, and that remains when we are no longer able to do.

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