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Sr Violet

Our Orphanage was founded in the 1860s for girls of the ‘upper classes’; girls of a certain social status, who would normally need to earn their own living, and be educated as such: initially, most of them would have been governesses. In order to educate them to a sufficiently high standard, the Orphanage also took in girls who weren’t orphans, for education. In the census, all these girls are down as ‘pupils’; the orphans paid less, and, if I remember correctly, were provided with clothes as well. Obviously, some of the girls would have gone home for the holidays, and others stayed, although our records are not such that we can tell whether there was any strict dividing line between orphans and others. Sr Constance joined the Community in the 1880s, having been a pupil at the Orphanage; and later Sr Agnes, although by the time she was at the Orphanage as a pupil, it was often termed ‘Orphan School’. In time, the orphanage element dropped away, and by the 1920s it was a school: All Hallows School. It was here that Sr Violet was educated, and, as far as we know, she was only the third Sister to join the Community from this institution; the only Sister to join from its time as a school only. How easy it was to join a Community where many of the Sisters would have known you as a schoolgirl is now lost. But, I imagine, it brought its own challenges. However, it did mean that Sr Violet’s memory of the Community went back further than any other Sister, at least by the time I joined, and she had that different perspective. There are stories we have of Sisters which can only have come from Sr Violet, such as that of Sr Jessie Mary: ‘Sr Jessie Mary eventually became Sister in Charge of the School. She was a tall, imposing woman who commanded respect. She had a habit of jangling her keys as she walked through the school. The cry 'Cave' rang through the corridors, 'Jammy is coming' but I guess she did it on purpose to alert mischievous girls as a warning. Sister had a deep prayer life and she helped in the preparation for Confirmation and First Communion and Confession. Of the latter, she said 'It is not a flea hunt'. I discovered from her that God could be loved for himself.’ A direct quote from Sr Violet, which she wrote for me in response to an enquiry, and possibly an indication that Sr Violet’s time at the school may have paved the way for her eventual vocation, and laid some of the foundation for her faith.

Sr Violet’s contribution to the Community’s knowledge of its’ history was not limited to her own memories. Having taught history at the school for many years, she then went on to write our history, and she also taught Church (and Community) History to us, when I was a novice. She took us on a trip to visit Nunnery Farm in Shipmeadow, where the Community began back in the 1850s. At our 150th anniversary celebrations, she gave a talk about our history, and I can still remember one of the Sisters coming out saying ‘she was brilliant’. But Sr Violet’s time in the Community went far further than our history. My earliest memory of her is when I was staying as a guest and was asked if I could drive Sr Violet and Sr Daphne back to Norwich, where they lived in the Cathedral Close, while Sr Violet worked in the Cathedral. A very hazy memory, of one of them directing me through the streets. By the time I joined, they were both back at Ditchingham, where Sr Violet started doing pastoral work at our hospital, a completely new direction for her. There are other memories too, some good and some not so good. Looking back with hindsight, her loyalty to the Community, her devotion to our worship, and to her work, come through. She engaged with the Community in a way that may not always have been easy for her, and was very honest about herself, in so far as she could see that. I will always remember saying to me in St Michael’s kitchen that she realized, looking back, that sometimes when she thought she was being firm, she was actually being quite harsh. Well, yes, I could agree; but, at the same time, once she saw that, she was prepared to acknowledge it, not just hide it away and try to excuse it. I think that honesty gave her a wisdom and insight into other people’s motivations and characters as well.

The other main memory I have of her is at a Community day out at Bressingham steam museum. Visitors are allowed to go on the gallopers they have there. [The gallopers are similar to a carousel, but the horses go up and down]. Several of us had a go, some sitting in the sleigh the horses were pulling, and others going on the horses themselves. Sr Violet, by then in her 80s, said that she thought she could get on a horse, if we helped her get on one of those lower to the ground. So, we did – and she had her first ever ride on Gallopers that she was aware of! Always one willing to engage with others, much of her work was with people, and she was, at different times, both Associates Sister and Oblates Sister, the latter being one of her last official roles in the Community, and she spent time with our individual Oblates, as well as with them as a group. As she grew older, she was able to let go of some of the hurt from her past, and became quite capable of doing little work, in a way that would have been impossible when she was younger. I was always impressed by the way she handled her old age, getting the balance between activity and rest more or less right. She would always go out for a walk, even if it was only out one door of St Michael’s, round the building and in at another, a very frequent occurrence as her mobility declined. But she was often to be found seated in the recliner in the Sisters’ room, feet up, blanket over her legs, with the newspaper, and the cat sprawled somewhere nearby. Not that she found it easy; increasing deafness made life difficult, as she missed what was being said, and she found pain hard to handle, a fact she acknowledged, often saying she would have been no good under torture (a possibility thankfully never put to the test). She was able to see, too, when the time had come to move into a Care Home, a decision she made for herself, aware that the Community would find it a strain to continue to care for her at home, and a decision which we are grateful she made. That, too, must have been a huge relinquishment, meaning, as it did, leaving the site at Ditchingham, which had been her home for much of her life. She spent more years at the home than any of us might have anticipated, due partly no doubt to the care she received there, but also, I suspect, to her fighting spirit, which was very much part of Sr Violet, and may well go back to her earliest years, when as a very fragile baby she was not expected to survive – and was baptized then and there, using I think the names of both grandmothers. She did survive, and lived for 96 years, during which she served her God within our Community for over 70 years. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

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