The 21st December marks the anniversary of the death of two of our sisters: M. Louisa, who died in 1949, and Sr Esther Faith, whose year of death I’m unsure of. M. Louisa is from Herefordshire, a banker’s daughter who took her middle name, probably because we already had a sister using her first name. (We have had a few names repeated over the years – Matilda, Winifred and Elizabeth jump to mind, but it’s confusing to have 2 Sisters using the same name at the same time). She had her own means, according to the 1891 census, when she was living in Tenbury with her older sister. She joined the Community a few years later and was professed on the 6th January 1895. She worked in various Community houses, including the hospital, then in 1923, she became Novice Mistress. She had two periods in this role – a crucial one, forming the Sisters of the future. In between, from 1926-1937, she served as Reverend Mother. I can remember a comment in the Community Diary in 1937, saying that she felt the time had come to step down and let someone else lead the Community. That person was M. Flora, who remains one of the major figures in Community history. M. Louisa became Assistant Superior in 1943/4; she died in office, and was the first Sister to be buried in the Convent cemetery, as opposed to the ‘CAH corner’ in the parish graveyard. M. Flora was buried next to her, many years later.
Sr Esther Faith I know very little about. I hope it may be possible to discover more through Census returns, but this is complicated as she was a member of our third order, and we don’t have a record of their surnames. The third order – originally known as the Order of Repentance – was a small order attached to our Community, and under the guidance of one of our Sisters. It was the vision of our first warden, William Scudamore, whose desired to see a place where girls who had been at the House of Mercy, and wished to dedicate their lives to God at the Community, could stay. The House of Mercy took in girls whose lives had gone astray, trained them as domestic servants and taught them how to live as Christian women. It was hard work, and each girl who stayed the two years was found a job and given a uniform. Those girls who went on to join the Third Order each took ‘Faith’ after their names. We have no record of who they were, except for the House of Mercy records, which doesn’t mention which girls went on to join the order. They lived in Holy Cross House, which was originally built for them in memory of Scudamore. As far as I can gather, they worked alongside the Sisters, and joined them in Chapel. They wore brown habits, and there were only a few of them; their names are recorded on our memorial boards. It was a venture very much of its’ time, and the last two Sisters died in the 1950s. Sr Irene Faith, the last of them, worked at St Michael’s House and is fondly remembered by those who knew her.
There is more work to be done on the ‘Faith’ sisters. I have some Census records which show some of these Sisters as ‘servants’ giving their full names (but not the ‘Faith’ addition), which encourages me to think that I can find out more about these women. But their life and service is very much a hidden one, unlike that of M. Louisa, whose work is better documented, and who spent over 20 years in the chief roles of the Community.
Christ came among us as one who serves; both these women faithfully served their God in the position to which they were called. Whether we are high profile, or have a hidden ministry as Sr Esther Faith did, we are all part of the body of Christ, Emmanuel, God who is with us.