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Sr Patience Boddington - Mystery

We have very few facts about Sr Patience, who I think is the Sister pictured. We know the basics that we have about each Sister. Her surname was Boddington, she was professed on St James’ day in 1877 and died on the 2nd January 1919, in her 60s, after 47 years in religion. This dates from her clothing, not her profession, and gives her a long Novitiate, which supports the fact that she was a lay Sister, not a choir Sister. But five years is a long Novitiate, even for a lay Sister.


Census data gives us more: Sr Patience must have been Julia Patience Boddington, born in Soho, London in 1855. She was based at the Orphanage in 1881, at 4 Draper’s Lane, Ditchingham in 1891 (as a visitor, but it was a Community house), and at the Community House in 1901 and 1911. Where it gets confusing is investigating her background. Julia Patience Boddington was born in London in 1855, with a mother whose maiden name was also Boddington. She was baptised in Ditchingham in 1857, the daughter of William and Frances Elizabeth Boddington, who lived in London, and her father is a ‘writing clerk’. No information is given as to why she was baptised in Ditchingham, rather than London, although this information does fit together: Frances Elizabeth Boddington married William Boddington in 1850; I have not been able to discover whether they were related or not. They lived all their married life in various parts of London. But Julia Patience is not registered with them in any census, although other children are: Frances, Maria, Martha and Thomas. The three girls were all born in the 1850s, although the dates and places differ. (It is obviously the same family). The girls are registered with their parents in each census. Thomas was born in the late 1860s, and is only registered with his family in the 1871 census. I have no idea why Julia Patience was not with her family, but I have some surmises as to where she was. In 1871 Julia P Boddington, born Soho in 1855, was a pupil at All Hallows Orphanage. I cannot find her in 1861, but in that census there are a couple of scholars, aged 6, living in the House of Mercy. One is Patience Paddington, whom I can find no trace of elsewhere. The original, as well as the transcript, definitely said Paddington. But is it possible that this was misheard and Patience Paddington is actually Patience Boddington? It seems, in any case, that these two six-year-olds may be some of the girls whom the Community were asked to educate, which led to the founding of the Orphanage, later in the 1860s.


 But this in itself leads to some confusion. Was the Julia Patience Boddington, born 1855 in Soho, and at the Orphanage in 1871 also the Julia Patience Boddington, born 1855 in Soho, who was a lay Sister in the Community? It would seem likely – except … What I am uncertain of is the exact criteria for deciding whether a potential Sister would be a choir or a lay Sister, although it would have been a Community decision. It seems likely that an individual’s social background would have played a part, although this may not have been strictly kept; I do know that a lay Sister could become a choir Sister, if sufficiently qualified. But I also know that girls in the Orphanage were from the ‘upper classes’; in other words, of the status to become choir Sisters rather than lay Sisters. Indeed, the other two Orphanage girls who joined the Community both became choir Sisters. Which seems to make it impossible for Julia Patience to be both an Orphanage girl and a lay Sister. There were working class girls trained alongside the Orphanage, but these are registered separately in the Census. Julia Patience was definitely a pupil.


It is possible that they are one and the same, and that there may be another explanation. In the 1920s, the Community documents were re-written, and many customs put in writing, including how a lay Sister could become a choir Sister. It also included a minimum educational attainment for a Choir Sister, although unfortunately I didn’t note down exactly what this was. Is it possible that Julia Patience wasn’t able to attain this, and therefore became a lay Sister? That she was, indeed, more suited for the work of a lay Sister than a choir Sister, as far as that was seen in the nineteenth century? (The distinction between choir and lay ended in the 1940s). This may explain her longer Novitiate, alongside the fact that she seems to have been clothed in 1872, and would therefore have been quite young. Indeed, she may have joined straight from the Orphanage, which was unusual.


Still, we have those few facts, identifying Sr Patience as a CAH Sister, and we have the Census, telling us where she worked. We know that, as a lay Sister, she would have had some time for prayer, and attended some services, but fewer than a choir Sister; she would only have been able to lead those services in the absence of a choir Sister. She would never have had a vote on Community issues; lay Sisters received the ability to vote in an election for the Reverend Mother only in the 1920s. We don’t know how she felt about this, or why she felt called into Community. We don’t know exactly what kind of work she did in the various houses in which she lived. But the answers to those questions are known, if not in written form anywhere.  Which brings me, somehow, to God; and the fact that we know God, and, indeed, have some statements (such as creeds) that affirm our faith in who God is. But there remains, too, part of God that is mystery, that may always remain mystery. Part of our journey of faith is delving deeper and deeper into the fact of mysteriousness of God; part of the point of our faith is that there always remains something of God that is not known, which is why God is God.

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