obituary by Fr Colin Stephenson
a foggy morning in April, 1947, Fr. Hope Patten arrived on the doorstep
of St. Saviour’s Priory, Haggerston, and when he was
shown into the Reverend Mother’s room he said at once "Mother,
I want Sisters for Walsingham". Mother Cecily [Cicely] replied
"It is quite impossible!" and then after a pause she added
"but we must do it!" An unhappy sequence of events had led
up to this request so that it was a mission of some delicacy. The Mother
knew that she was giving the Sister-in-charge of the small group she
intended to send an assignment which needed great tact and abundant
charity. She chose as leader Sister Margaret Mary, who she rightly judged,
could deal with the situation in which the Sisters must identify themselves
completely with the Shrine and yet preserve a greater measure of independence
than those who had worked there before.
There was accommodation in the pilgrim hospice, but it was very cramped
and there was little privacy. A tin hut served as a chapel. The Sisters
immediately and without fuss took over the running of the temporal side
of the pilgrimage work, the organisation of the Sacristy, and threw
themselves whole-heartedly into the life of the village.
For Sister Margaret leaving Haggerston where she had grown up in the
religious life was a great wrench. She loved the unattractive and very
unhygienic streets around the Priory but she had an overwhelming affection
for the people who lived in them. She once confessed that very often
at Walsingham when she had been at prayer she would blink her eyes and
wonder where she was as she had in her prayer been transported back
to the chapel of St Saviour’s Priory. The people in the various
East End parishes served by the Community loved her in return and never
forgot her. When she returned to end her days at St Saviour’s
Priory, almost twenty-five years later, there was great rejoicing in
many homes around Haggerston.
At Walsingham she was the Superior and had the very difficult task of
arranging the work of her small Community and jealously safeguarding
their life of prayer. So often she would take on tasks herself in order
that others should not miss their periods of quiet withdrawal from the
heavy activity connected with the work of the Shrine.
A mark of the Sisters of St Saviour’s has always been their readiness
to take on difficult work, and Mother Margaret, as she became, not only
had this characteristic but would even embrace it joyfully. It was no
uncommon experience to approach her with what one felt was an unreasonable
demand and be completely disarmed by a charming smile and the reply
"that will be lovely!" and she meant it, for she had a charity
which was able to find deep happiness in the service of others.
This was the secret of her power over the pilgrims and during the years
she was at Walsingham she made innumerable friends, and in her little
office in the hospice people opened their hearts to her and she was
able to exact a pastoral ministry which was invaluable in such a place.
Particularly she was kind and sympathetic towards those who were not
accustomed to the sort of religion found at the Shrine and so often
it was her love and understanding which won them completely.
From her first arrival at Walsingham her ideal had been to find accommodation
away from the hospice where the Sisters could enjoy a degree of enclosure
which she felt essential for the maintenance of the very active life
they were forced to live. It was characteristic of her that she almost
literally built an altar and then let the Convent develop around it.
In 1955 it was made into an independent house with Sister Margaret Mary
as its first Mother. The constitution places a great deal of responsibility
in the hands of the Mother and Mother Margaret found that the office,
for her, involved a great deal of suffering. When things began to change
in the Church she, like many other religious, was torn between the traditions
of her Community as she had received them, and growing relaxation of
ancient disciplines which was taking place everywhere. She was forced
to give way over some things. but it was a great agony for her, and
to the end of her life far from desiring relaxation she was always afraid
that she was not giving enough. It was indeed the love of Christ which
She always looked frail in health but was in fact enormously tough and
could do without sleep and warmth to a remarkable degree. It was hard
for her to realize that the new generation had less steel in their make-up
than her own contemporaries, but she expected far more from herself
than she did from any of her Sisters.
When her health began to fail it presented certain difficulties for
those who lived with her because although in pain and discomfort, she
would never mention it and would make light of it if asked. As she approached
her 80th year she felt convinced that she should resign her office as
Mother which she did gladly and willingly.
In such a small Community it was not easy for an Ex-Mother to obliterate
her office completely, and so it was decided, at her own request, that
she should return to St Saviour’s Priorv in 1968. She did not
live long but it was a happy time in her old home and there was great
rejoicing at her return.
The Guardians have decided to make the adaptation of the present shop
into rooms for sick and disabled pilgrims a memorial to Mother Margaret,
and the Bursar will be glad to receive donations from those who would
like to associate themselves with this. It is felt that this would be
a fitting memorial to one who exercised particular charity towards unfortunate
pilgrims and would be something very close to her heart.
In the history of the restoration of the Walsingham Shrine Mother Margaret
plays an important role and her great heart had room for the slums of
East London and the beauty of a Norfolk village, because both held human
beings who could be loved and cared for in Christ her Saviour.