R.I.P. Sister Rosemary SBVM


Eulogy given at her Requiem Mass

by Reverend Mother Winsome SBVM


Sister Rosemary was unique. She was a remarkable person but also a paradox; a collection of seeming contradictions.

She had an artistic temperament but also a very practical nature. She had considerable talent for writing poetry, drawing, painting, and general arts and crafts such as making stuffed toys. She learned to weave and weaved scarves and cane seats. Even in her last months here she knitted woollen hats for Seafarers' missions.

Her considerable practical skills for cooking, sewing, general housekeeping meant that she was often sent by the main convent to other community branch houses as an invaluable addition to any house.

She was susceptible to psychological fragilities yet spiritually strong with an impenetrable shield of faith. She described herself as physically weak, yet she outlived all the other sisters she was professed with 53 years ago. She never went to University but qualified and worked as a radiographer before becoming an Anglican nun. Whilst an Anglican nun, she completed theological courses, was a Licenced Lay Reader in the Church of England and had a ministry helping lead parish missions, for example during Holy Week. Sermons she preached were memorable and accessible and she was a highly valued retreat giver and spiritual director.

She was a loving and generous sister both to us her sisters in community and to her blood brothers and their families. She had a marvellous sense of humour and a gift for friendship. She wanted to be as she put it, "where there is life" - always ready to greet new people and find something interesting in their lives - and yet she also had immense inner resources and found peace and tranquillity in her own company.

She was thoughtful and reflective - she had a gift for seeing the 'other' point of view which became important to us when, five years ago, a group of sisters set out like Abraham in faith, not knowing where we were going, in order to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church through the newly formed Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. There was no question of Sister Rosemary blindly following like a sheep. She reflected and prayed hard over a period of months before making the decision to join us. She found the transition a huge challenge but ultimately not an insurmountable one. As she wrote,

"I am Ruth to the community's Naomi, in entering the Catholic Church… My commitment is serious. I would never go back."

She had a mind of her own and a heart that loved the Church of England but loved God more and believed entering into full communion with the Catholic Church was living out Jesus' call to her to "follow me". The move was no easy sinecure.

As she explained, "For me an awareness of all is well, this has to do with the evening of my life, it in no way negates what has gone before… it is perfectly reasonable that I am faithful to all the excellence that I have gained from my 82 years as an Anglican. It is a wonderful bonus to live in a Church that accepts and values the Religious Life. My journey has been a straight path, with this new commitment to the Catholic Church."

More than half a century before, Sister Rosemary had committed herself to the Religious Life promising to follow Christ in a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. This is the one aspect of Sister Rosemary's life that was not a paradox, where there was no contradiction: she never changed her fidelity to her Lord. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, "God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next."

I venture to suggest that one part of Sister Rosemary's mission was to inspire others; to show what is possible with complete trust and confidence in God. Sister Rosemary was incredibly courageous. It is a tribute to Sister Rosemary's faith in God that at age 82, with a history of cancers, emotional challenges, and uncertainty about the future, nevertheless she stepped out in faith, fearlessly trusting entirely in God for her future.

Sister Rosemary demonstrates that if you hand your life over to God in faith, God will sustain you through all the traumas life can bring; that you can live a fulfilled life, loving, serving others.

The sisters and I miss Sister Rosemary. There was something fragile and gentle about her. Maybe because she had suffered so much over the years both emotionally and physically; she was empathetic at a depth perhaps rarely experienced. She struggled, as we all do, with life's challenges but there was an inherent purity of heart about her where she just wanted to find God and be found by Him.

One of her favourite sayings was "there is grace in the present moment". She designed and produced her own cards and notelets with those words and gave them out to anyone in need, be they doctors, nurses and other patients she met in hospital waiting rooms. "There is grace in the present moment" - you don't need to worry, struggle, fear; just trust God. She lived in the present moment providing us with an example in the living out of those words in her own life.

Let me end with a final paradox relating to Sister Rosemary's last words, written and spoken. The paradox is that they were her words but not written for us and not heard by us from her own lips. The last entry she wrote in her notebook, found after her death, ended with these words which were strangely prophetic: "I will arise and go to my Father".

Her last spoken words were relayed in a phone call by a nurse on her ward who told me that despite all their efforts, the nursing staff could not persuade Sister Rosemary to do a particular thing. So I asked them to pass on a message to Sister Rosemary that, "Mother Winsome asks that you do this so we can get you home as soon as possible." The nurse rang back a few minutes later to say, when they told her they had a message from Mother Winsome she replied, "MY Mother Winsome?" and when they said yes, she immediately did what they had been asking and told them, "Tell Mother Winsome, All is well." Those were the last words I received from her; all is well.

It is now our turn to say to our beloved Sister Rosemary: All is well. We miss you but we give God great thanks for the privilege of having known you, and for all you have inspired in us. You have fallen asleep here on earth. May you now rest in peace and in your own words, arise and go to your Father in Heaven.


©SBVM 2013