“When you get lost in a really strange place,
nothing is more comforting than finding a
friend [or friends] whom you trust and who
can show the way.”
The sisters had finally reached dry land. As they took their first faltering steps, it seemed that the whole Island of England was heaving and dipping, knocking them off balance, making it difficult for them to stand or walk upright! Onlookers might have thought that they had imbibed too much French wine on the voyage across the channel! Since they had disembarked at Newhaven, they still had some more journeying to do to reach London. So, tired and hungry, they boarded a train and, after an uncomfortable few hours finally arrived in the great city, the biggest in the world! As they made their way out of the station through teeming masses of humanity it seemed to them that the whole world actually did indeed live in London!
Now that they had reached their destination, what would they do ? Where would they go? Remembering that their parish priest had given them the name of a very respectable French family – the Morels – who had settled in London, the sisters resolved to search for this family who lived in a suburb called Marylebone and who might be able to help them. The streets of London, like the station, were busy and so no one paid much attention to the two very simply dressed ladies, who made their way through the mayhem and raucous banter so gently and gingerly. Not understanding anything that was happening around them they were terrified that someone would stop them, challenge them and thus find out that they were foreigners from the country at the other side of the Channel!
Their first plan of action was to find the home of the Morel family. Necessity and fear gave speed to their leaden steps, and, after losing their way many times and seemingly going around in proverbial circles, the two weary travellers eventually arrived at the Morel residence, unsure of the reception they might get. After their timid knock, the door was opened by a chubby, friendly faced woman – Mrs. Morel herself who had no idea who these ‘ladies’ were or of their plight. She welcomed them warmly into her home and since they had nowhere else to go, she agreed to let them use two rooms in her attic until they could find a more permanent place of their own.
“This is quite a nice area of London,” declared Mrs. Morel, “there are a few French families here and nearby there is a small church called ‘the French Chapel’ because many French people go to Mass there.”
Relief surged through the sisters, for, after such a welcome they felt that the good Lord had led them to a place that seemed like home from home!
It soon became known that the two ‘ladies’ who had taken up residence with the Morels’ were good seamstresses and when the first sewing orders came the sisters worked all the hours of daylight. Everything had to be done by hand – sewing machines were rare and expensive. The work was poorly paid so, in spite of their hours and hours of tedious, tiring, work they barely managed to pay the rent and also put a meagre supply of food on the table.
These were days of struggle and hardship for they knew that their sisters in France were depending on them. Then came the news that three more sisters would be arriving from France any day. This news caused more anxiety for the sisters knew that the small rooms at Morels’ would be too small to accommodate them all! Where to go? What to do?
Each morning the sisters attended Mass in the French Chapel and here they prayed for guidance and help. It was in this hallowed spot that their prayers were answered. The parish priest, Fr. Philpin, also French, had noticed these two retiring ‘ladies’ and wondered about them. Unable to curb his curiosity, he approached them one morning after Mass and blurted out,
“You aren’t religious sisters are you? You are sisters! Why didn’t you tell me? Where have you come from? What are you doing here?”
After having so many questions fired so rapidly at them, and sensing that they had found a sympathetic ear, the sisters felt obliged to tell this kindly priest the whole story. Then things began to happen!
Sister Louise Shields, Rndm