We only came to learn English … and that was over a hundred years ago !
Yes, the Congregation’s presence in England only came about because of a meeting between Mere Ste Catherine and an Oblate Father in 1902. The priest, Father Miller, had seen our sisters at work in Bechuanaland and was so impressed that he hoped to take some with him when he became Bishop in Johannesburgh. A knowledge of English was essential ; so plans were made to open a house in England.
Cardinal Vaughan was contacted, and in turn Fr Prevel superior of the Fathers in Hitchin. A house was found, and three young sisters arrived in the Hertfordshire town of Hitchin : Sisters St Brieuc, the eldest at barely thirty years old, Marie-Aimee, Marie-Antoine and St Guenole. And so began the journey of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in England. The beginnings were hard. Simply to earn a living for the community whilst learning the language, they undertook laundry work, and then progressed to making clothes for the local gentry. But in time the urge to care and evangelise took the sisters into education, beginning with a small school of 32 pupils in Hitchin.
Over the years, whilst continuing to assist the Assumptionist Fathers, and since the ‘60s, the Retreat work of the Redemptorist Father in Galway and Belfast, education has been the primary apostolatic thrust of the Congregation in the British Isles. We have either built our own establishments as in Hitchin and Whetstone, or undertaken the direction (headships) or taught in other parish or independent schools as in Stopsley in Luton, Haverhill in Suffolk, or in Belfast or Liverpool. The School in Whetstone founded in 1936 continues to flourish today (under the trusteeship of the Diocese of Westminster since 2005). One sister is head of Department in the Cardinal Newman School in Luton.
Since the post Vatican II era, our apostolic commitments have been increasingly diversified. Sisters have been increasingly engaged in other ministries : catechesis, liturgy, various forms of pastoral care of the sick and the house-bound ; as pastoral care also of religious ; involvement in justice issues, lecturing, group-facilitation, retreats and spiritual direction. And, despite so much contemporary ‘communication’, so many people are lonely … the apostolate of simple presence is always a propos as a means of expressing “the tenderness and merciful love of the Father revealed in Jesus”.
We came to learn English …
So here in Great Britain, where over 120 sisters have given life and voice to express the charism of Angelique throughout over a hundred years of presence and ministry, it is still a place of internationality, still a place ‘to learn English’ even as recently as January – March 2011. It is one aspect of our contribution to the life of our missions in Africa and Papua New Guinea. We are still here to help!
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Did you know …?
A ‘Legion d’Honneur’ for a Sister of the Sacred Heart ? Yes. The french government made this award to Sr Ste Eleanor for her heroic service to members of the French Resistance/ the Free French. They found a home from home in Hitchin, and became firm friends of the community. More detailed information can be sent later – if it would be helpful.