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Let go!

Sr Mary Sophia’s profession seems to have marked a turning point in the Community’s history. Only the fourth Sister to be professed, followed shortly after by Sr Mary Rose, their Professions in 1867 came more than ten years after M. Lavinia founded the Community; yet, after that time, many others followed. Born in the early 1830’s, in Deddington, Oxfordshire, Mary Sophia Turner was a doctor’s daughter, one of seven children of Thomas William Turner and his wife Elizabeth, who married in 1828. Mary was their third child, and one of six sisters; the only boy, Edward, was a few years younger than Mary. One of the girls, Jane, I think died aged only 5, and the details of the other siblings are those who appear in the Census, living with their parents. All of the girls seem to have stayed at home until their father’s death in 1863; in 1861, Elizabeth (aged 31), Emily (aged 29), Mary (aged 28) and Harriet (aged 27) are all with their father in Deddington, while the youngest, Fanny, is with her mother, who is staying with an aunt in Colchester. It was only after Thomas died that Mary followed her vocation to Ditchingham. Whether her father’s death prompted thoughts about her future, or whether she had felt drawn in this direction, but wasn’t able to enact it until then, I do not know. In any case, it seems that she did not join us straight away; she would have been clothed, I think, in 1865, so would have joined us at the earliest in 1864.


In 1871, Thomas’ widow, Elizabeth, was living in Northamptonshire, with her youngest daughter; she died later in the 1870s. Edward, the only son, also became a doctor, and lived in Deddington with his family; Elizabeth married an older clergyman in 1863; Emily and Fanny never married. Edward’s wife, Louisa Ann Colman, came from Norfolk, providing a possible link for Mary with Norfolk and CAH. Mary was in her 30s when she joined the Novitiate; how many Novices there were at that point, I cannot say, as some may well have left. But Sr Mary Rose was professed not long after her, so they would have shared their Novitiate for much of the time; Sr Catherine, professed in 1868, would have been there for some of it; and Sr Martha, the first professed lay Sister, may well have been there as well. Professed in 1869, Sr Martha would, I think, have had a longer Novitiate, although I do not know how much lay and choir Novices shared. I have always assumed that both Sr Mary Sophia and Sr Mary Rose used just their first names before joining the Community, and started using their second names on becoming Novices; you cannot have two Sr Mary’s in the same Community at the same time. (It gets confusing enough when there are more than one at different times). That both of them used two names implies, at least to me, that both joined at roughly the same time. Certainly, their profession dates were both in May, not long apart. What sort of a Community did they join?


They would have lived in the House of Mercy, [pictured, with Sisters] as the Community House was not built until the mid-1870s; until then, the Community and the House of Mercy girls shared the same space. But by the mid- 1860s, the work of the Community had expanded. The Orphanage was opened in 1864; the House of Mercy (which was built in two parts) was also completed then. Which brings to mind another reason why the Community may have started to expand at that point; there was more space. It’s possible that both Sr Mary Sophia and Sr Mary Rose needed to wait before joining until the building work was complete. At some point, a cottage hospital was started in cottages in Ditchingham village. So, while there were few Sisters, the work was growing, and the need for them would have been obvious. It may well have been quite an exciting time to join; but it may also have felt something of a risk.


In the 1871 census, Sr Mary Sophia was registered at the House of Mercy; whether that is where she worked is less certain than in future censuses, as it was also the Community’s home. By 1881, she has moved down to the village, where a purpose-built Hospital had opened. She is Sister-in-Charge, and was running it short-handed. Sr Bertha, who also worked there, was at that point staying with her father, who was dying; she and her blood sister, Sr Amy, had been given leave to care for him. In 1891, Sr Mary Sophia is still registered at the hospital, as Sister in Charge, and is the only Sister on the Census at the hospital. (One of the servants was, I think, a Third Order Sister; Sr Bertha had died in 1887). Whether Sr Mary Sophia spent all that time as Sister-in-Charge, or whether others had taken it on in between, I am uncertain, but by the mid-1890’s, she is on the electoral register at the Ditchingham Mission House; still in the village, but with a different aim. I find her in 1901, staying with her sisters Emily and Fanny in Oxfordshire; she may well also have been there when she died later that year.


I am uncertain whether Sr Mary Sophia had any official medical training; that she was knowledgeable about nursing is known by a brief reference in one of M. Lavinia’s letters about her coming to nurse Sr Elizabeth, who died in 1882. Neither do I know for certain when she left the hospital, how long she spent at the Mission House or whether she lived in the Community House for any length of time, having spent most of her life in CAH in the village. But it does seem that she left the Hospital to move just around the corner to the Ditchingham Mission House, and that may have taken some ability to let go and move on. Sr Mary Sophia’s vocation was to the Community; within that, she evidently spent some time running the Hospital. But when the time came for her to leave that – and she may or may not have been ready to leave – it would have meant a change in focus, and an ability to leave the new Sister in Charge at the Hospital to run it without interference. This ability to let go is not always easy; yet it is vital. Whatever our vocation in life, it will always involve leavings and letting go, as we move on, and as others take on possibly treasured roles. Letting go may be one of the most important gifts we can bring to any role we are called upon to do.

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