Sister Anne Drew
Christmas is always a season to celebrate, but for William and Hannah Drew the 25th December had extra resonance as the day they married in 1858; their oldest daughter, Clara, was born two years later. A Norfolk family, during the 1860s, they moved from Sprowston to Calvert Street, off Colegate in Norwich. For some reason, the family don’t seem to have attended either of the two churches on Colegate, St George’s and St Clement’s, but St James, Pockthorpe (now the puppet theatre), which, while within walking distance, must have been a bit of a stretch for their growing family. Of course, they may or may not have attended regularly, but in 1870, all four of their children were baptised there: Clara had been joined by Flora, William and Anna. St James, Pockthorpe attracted my interest, as that was the parish where our Sisters first started work in Norwich, but that was not until the 1880s, by which time the Drew family had moved to Connaught Road, in the Heigham area of the city. This, too, is interesting; it was in Heigham that our Cottage Home Refuge was established in the early 1870s, as a kind of half-way house before girls came to the House of Mercy; and, I think, may only have been about ten minutes from where the Drews lived. By 1881, two more children: Edith and Ethel, had arrived; both baptised together at St Philip’s Heigham in 1883; St Philip’s, which no longer exists, was only built in the 1870s, so would have been relatively new when the Drews attended.
William worked as an upholsterer and paper hanger all his life, so presumably had steady work to ensure his family had a stable start in life. Clara worked as a milliner until her marriage in 1885 to James Baker who was an aerated water manufacturer for most of his life; Flora worked as a dressmaker until her retirement; Edith worked as a Draper’s assistant, dying relatively young in 1916, and Ethel trained as a Milliner, until she too married after her father’s death. William, the only boy, tragically died aged 14 in early 1883; was it this incident that prompted William and Hannah to have their two younger daughters baptised later in the year?
This does, of course, leave Anna unaccounted for. Regular readers of this blog may be unsurprised when they learn that Anna joined the Community of All Hallows, where she is found in the House of Mercy in the 1891 Census, only just in her twenties. She must have been a novice at this stage, having I think joined in the late 1880s; she was professed in 1893, which would be correct if Lay Sisters, as Sr Anna was, had a longer noviciate than Choir Sisters, although I am uncertain of the length of either. Sr Anna died in 1950, having spent over 60 years in the Community. In that time, she will have seen many changes. Not only the effects of both world wars, she will have known some of the earliest Sisters, and will have seen the Community develop. Changes in society meant that by the 1920s many women were entering as Choir Sisters who would have been Lay Sisters in earlier years, and there was some searching about the whole system. Sr Anna was still alive when, in 1944, the distinction between Lay and Choir sisters came to an end and ‘from that time on we became one order’ to quote the Community diary. She would also have seen the development of the House of Mercy into St Michael’s Home, and the changing number of parishes we worked with in Norwich. She spent time in the Ditchingham Mission House, before probably moving to Norwich by 1911. In 1939, she is back at the Community House. Her funeral will have taken place in the Convent Chapel, which she would have seen built and dedicated in the 1890s, as a young Sister.
More women joined as Choir Sisters than Lay Sisters, so Sr Anna was one of a small group, who were spread around our various different works. Many were older than Anna, although Sr Margaret, the second to take the name, was only a few years older. She died in 1944, having spent most of her time in Community working at the Hospital, and also after 61 years in Community. Yet not all Sisters spent that long; many joined later in life, and some died early. Sr Elizabeth Caroline, a Lay Sister who was professed in 1888, died in 1899 aged only 39, and spent only 16 years in religion.
The lives of the two Lay Sisters who died before Sr Anna joined the Community also strike me: Sr Martha, the first professed Lay Sister, died in 1869, a few months after her Profession; and (the first) Sr Margaret died in 1883, only two years after hers. Their lives are far more hidden than Sr Anna’s, as I have not yet been able to identify them. Was their offering of their lives less than Sr Anna’s because they spent only a few years in Community, rather than over 60? Sr Martha must have led the way; I think both Sr Matilda (professed 1871) and Sr Rosanna (professed 1872) may well have known Sr Martha. But I think, too, that God accepts and honours the totality of our offering, and there will be no distinction between those who have lived and served long and those who have lived less, yet still served. For our lives are not about us, and how much we have done; but they are about God and what God does; and God is love. We do not work to enhance our own image - well, okay, I suspect many of us might. But our journey in life is about letting go of that, and allowing the love of God to flow more freely to and through us. It will not be years of service that count, however much major anniversaries are and should be celebrated. (If I make it to a few months over 100, I’ll get to my 70th Profession anniversary, which would be fairly major …). But in Community, we honour the anniversary of the death of each Sister, however long or short her time with us. For ultimately it is the God of love we follow, and it is to God’s glory that we give all that we have done, coming to our Saviour not full of ourselves, but empty, to allow that Love to fill us even more; and to join us together not as separate individuals but as one true Community of all the hallowed ones who love and serve our God.