“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to meet difficulties. Disappointments, defeat and discouragement are the tools that God uses to show us the way!” [Paul Coelho]
Have you ever felt betrayed, hurt, disappointed and let down by those whom you thought were your friends, people whom you trusted implicitly?
This is exactly how Sr. Marie was feeling as she remembered and pondered the hurtful words of Mother St. John just days before,
“If you are so convinced that you are right and I am wrong in confining
our Mission to London alone, then why don’t you join another Congregation?”
How easily she was dismissed!
Sr. Marie found herself in a real quandary. Her mind was in turmoil as she seemingly saw God’s plans for her come tumbling down around her, yet in her heart of hearts God’s call was so clear. She had lived as a Sister of Compassion for ten years, had shared in all the trials and hardships of those early years, had not spared herself in serving the sisters and the poor among whom they now worked and she had to agree that there was much to do among the poor and destitute of London.
The London that Sr. Marie knew, lived and worked in was characterised by corridors of narrow, dirty alleyways. Hunger, Poverty and disease abounded among the poor people who lived there. Running water in their hovels was unheard of and the very primitive sewage system was practically non-existent. The River Thames itself became so dirty and polluted, especially in warm weather that it became known locally as ‘the great stink’! Even so, ragged urchins scavenged along the muddy banks of the river looking for empty bottles and any kind of saleable junk. These destitute children were called ‘mudlarks’ and few, if any, went to school.
It was into this deprived and often hostile environment that the sisters brought education. Some schools were already established for boys but there was nothing for girls. In the thinking of the day the girls, especially those from poor families, did not need education because their role in life was simply to be mothers and homemakers.
The sisters, however, offered education to all and concentrated especially on the girls. The children who attended came dressed in rags and looked half starved. The numbers increased and word went around. Soon the sisters were faced with large classes of often unruly and street wise children who were keen to learn but had little discipline. As time went on these establishments became known as ‘ragged schools’ but they offered golden opportunities and opened a whole new world for these ‘starved’ children.
‘Yes’, thought Sr. Marie, ’there was so much good to be done in London, but, she could not lose sight of her original call – to go to foreign missionary countries.’ She spent long hours in prayer asking God to show her the way He wished her to go.
One evening, just before Christmas, Mother St. John summoned the whole community to a meeting for she wanted to make an announcement. Briefly she said, ‘From this evening, Sr. Marie is relieved of her positions of Assistant Superior and novice Mistress.”
The meeting ended abruptly and there was no explanation given so the surprised sisters were left completely mystified. In effect Sr. Marie had been deposed and was now the lowest of all the sisters, Her response was to spend longer hours in prayer. These prayers were about to be answered!
It was some days later when an unexpected visitor came to the convent, “ I am a missionary – a Marist Father,” he explained to Mother St. John. “I have heard that the Sisters of Compassion are a missionary Congregation and I am looking for Missionary sisters for our missions in New Zealand and the South Pacific.”
Mother St. John was astounded and confessed that the sisters of Compassion were no longer available for the foreign missions but that if he returned in a day or two she might be able to put him in touch with someone who could help him! Sr. Marie immediately came into her mind!
As soon she returned from work, Mother St. John, hurried to tell Sr. Marie about her visitor. “Pray, pray sister,” she said, “this may be the answer you seek!”
Sr. Marie spoke to the Marist Fathers in London who then did some research into her background. When this was completed and feeling very satisfied and impressed with the good reports received about sister, they left her in no doubt at all that they definitely wanted her for their New Zealand mission.
In her enthusiasm, Sr. Marie lost no time in contacting the authorities in Rome and she was given permission to enter a new Congregation more suited
To her vocation. She was now convinced that God was telling her to go ahead and she felt both elated and somewhat frightened.
Sr. St. John was relieved that Sr. Marie’s future was becoming clear but she was also sorry to lose such a faithful and generous sister. She helped Sister in any way she could and even suggested a companion for her – Sr. Wilfrid, who also felt strongly that she was called to be a missionary sister. So it was that Sr. Marie and Sr. Wilfrid left the London Convent together. They were met at London Bridge Station by a Marist Father who was to accompany them to Paris.
THE MARIST FATHERS
The Marist Fathers had been founded just twenty five years before and had been sending missionary priests to the wild islands of the South Pacific. For years they had had little success in their work – some of their Priests and Brothers had even been murdered for their efforts – but at last their patient endurance was beginning to make a difference. Now they saw the need for women missionaries to work with women and children. In new Zealand, a Marist Bishop – Philippe Viard had a flourishing mission in a small town called Wellington and he wanted sisters urgently.
In the meantime Sr. Marie and Sr. Wilfrid travelled from Paris to Lyons where they were met and taken to a small apartment belonging to the Marist Fathers. They noted the address – 4, Rue St. Bartholomew.
“Welcome to your new home,” said the kindly priest who showed them the apartment, “that is, until Bishop Viard sends for you.”
It was August 15th 1861 – the feast of the Assumption.
Next time: Dashed hopes open up new possibilities.
Sister Louise Shields, Rndm