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Sr Ann Cecilia

Where is your home?

As the youngest of Matthias and Margaret Edge’s six children, Ann must have grown used to her siblings being away from home. Matthias was a solicitor, based in Ormskirk, Lancashire and at the 1851 Census only 3 of the children are at home with their parents: Jane, aged 16, Robert, aged 12 and Ann, only 6. Agnes, the oldest, was staying with friends in Liverpool, and Margaret, aged 10, was at school. I haven’t discovered where William, the oldest son, was. One exciting event in Ann’s childhood must have been Agnes’ wedding in 1853 to Henry Ansdell; but tragedy struck two years later when Matthias died, aged only 56. Margaret was left with the remaining children, Jane being the next oldest aged only 20, although William may well have been earning his own living by this time. How she managed, I don’t know, or how much income she had, but by 1861 she has moved out of Ormskirk to Wavertree (also in Lancashire). The previous year, Jane had married William Steenstrand, and in 1861 Margaret, the second youngest daughter, is registered with her maternal aunt, and working as a governess, implying that she needed to earn her own living, although it may have been from choice. Ann Is living in Wavertree with her mother, but her life must have changed completely over the previous ten years. Did her mother have the money to send her to school? She had lost her father, aged only ten, and moved to a new home. How much Matthias’ death impacted the family I cannot be certain. The lives of the two sons, William and Robert Edge, are much more shadowy than that of their sisters. In 1867 it was Margaret (the daughter’s) turn to marry. Her husband, John (or Johan) Geveke was a shipbroker based in London, where the couple lived from at least 1871. John’s company also worked from Liverpool, which may explain how they met. Ann remained single, and presumably stayed with her mother until the latter’s death in 1870 or early 1871, when she moved to live with John and Margaret in London. Sadly, her older brother, William, died at sea in March 1874; Ann, together with Robert (a Chemist and druggist based in Manchester) was his executor.

Henry and Agnes were based in Liverpool, where Henry worked as a merchant, and they had at least 9 children. Henry’s fortunes seem to have declined during the 1870s, as by 1881 he is a shopkeeper in Walton-on-the-Hill, and Agnes is employed as a school mistress; they also took in 2 boarders, and they still managed to employ a servant. Nevertheless, it was a decline in fortune somehow; especially as Robert is registered with them and as of ‘no occupation’, so presumably he had either lost his job or his business. Jane and William were more successful: living in Litherland, also Lancashire, they had at least 7 children, and employed 3 or 4 servants. I know that William had declared himself ‘unable to meet his commitments’ in the cotton industry in 1890, which may explain the family’s move to Liverpool by 1891. However, the general feeling was that William had done very well the year before, and in 1891 (where he is listed merely as general merchant), the family were still able to employ 3 servants. [The servants referred to are all live-in, as registered on the census]. Margaret and John do not appear to have had children, and Ann was based with them until the early 1890s, when she became a novice Sister of Mercy.

By 1895, when Ann took her vows in The Community of All Hallows as Sr Ann Cecilia, her sisters Agnes and Margaret had died, as had her brother-in-laws Henry and William. Whether it was any of these deaths that prompted her to join our Community, I don’t know. Margaret died in 1894, by which time Sr Ann Cecilia was a novice, so that is unlikely to have prompted the change in her living circumstances. There were Sisterhoods based in London, and most took women as Associates of their Community, so it is quite possible that Sr Ann Cecilia had been living along these lines, before joining CAH. While based in the Community House at Ditchingham in her early years, by 1901 she was living in the Norwich Mission House in Colegate, where she died in 1909. I’m not sure at this stage what her exact work may have been, but I do know that the Norwich Mission House was based in the poorer area of Norwich, and the work would have been far from easy. She was the last of her siblings to die, with the possible exception of Robert, whose death I’m uncertain of. She was survived by her Sisters in Community, two of whom were her executors, and also by her brother-in-law John Geveke, as well as by many nephews and nieces (whose fortunes I haven’t followed).

What struck me about the family’s story was the potential effect of their father’s relatively early death; the potential ethical issues, as both Henry Ansdell and William Steenstrand were cotton merchants at some point in their lives; and the changing nature of their fortunes. Leaving the two sons aside, as I’ve discovered relatively little about their careers, both the older two sisters had married merchants, yet Jane and William’s lifestyle seems the more luxurious, and their potential to weather problems stronger. It brings me to that passage in Luke 16 (1-15), the parable of the shrewd manager, with the discussion that follows. This parable is probably one of the more obscure, but I wonder if we need to focus more on verse 4. The manager changes the bills of his master’s debtors, so that when he loses his job, they will welcome him into their homes. Is Jesus calling us to look at our priorities, about how we use our money, to ensure, not necessarily friends and dwellings in this life (important though that may be) but friends and dwellings in God’s space; to use our gifts, whatever they are, to further the Kingdom, rather than our own kingdoms? For what is honoured among humans is not necessarily what God honours (v 15); and we should strive for the latter not the former. Now it seems that this is exactly what Sr Ann Cecilia did; I cannot say how she occupied her time in the over 20 years she spent living with her sister and brother-in-law, but in her late 40s, she left her home, changed her life, joining our noviciate, and ending her days working among the poor of Norwich.

This is no comment on how the rest of her family may have used their lives, the details of which I haven’t discovered, but more a comment on our present day. It may be worth pondering our own standards of success. Were Jane and William really more successful than Henry and Agnes, merely because they appear wealthier? What is true wealth? - and how do we use it?

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