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From Clewer to Cuddesdon

by
15 March 2013

Bernard Palmer reads of the latest chapter in a community's life

In Alpes-Maritimes: this Franciscan church on the outskirts of Saorge, a harmonious crescent-shaped village with rows of houses that curve along the contours of the Provençal landscape, is "a playful Baroque structure attached to a still functioning monastery", Michael Jacobs writes inThe Most Beautiful Villages of Provence, first published in 1994, and now in a compact edition. Its 304 enticing photos by Hugh Palmer include this one (Thames & Hudson, £12.95(£11.65); 978-0-500-28996-9)

In Alpes-Maritimes: this Franciscan church on the outskirts of Saorge, a harmonious crescent-shaped village with rows of houses that curve along the...

Sisters and their work
Valerie Bonham
CSJB Books £12 plus £3 p&p*
(978-1-4411-5763-0)

SECOND editions of books usually turn out to be the mixture much as before. This one is an exception to the rule. It includes both a thorough revision of the original text, and three additional chapters to bring the story up to date since the publication of the first edition of A Joyous Service in 1989.

And there is much to record in respect of the past 20-odd years. The Community of St John Baptist (CSJB) was founded by the famous Canon Carter of Clewer in 1852, with an attractive Irish widow, Harriet Monsell, as its first Mother Superior; but it is now no longer the Clewer Sisterhood in a geographical sense. For years, the Sisters had been debating how to carry on in their over-extensive community buildings. By the end of the 1990s, it became clear that a move would have to be made. In January 2000, the Community purchased the priory at Begbroke, Oxfordshire, from a Roman Catholic order, and, in September 2011, the Sisters and their belongings were transported in 16 large furniture vans to their new property.

It was a strange choice, in that they had exchanged a massive complex of Victorian buildings for a largish manor house of Cotswold stone, dating from the Civil War period. So it was hardly surprising that, after only a few years at Begbroke, they should envisage yet another move: to Ripon College, Cuddesdon, where they would live among the ordinands. A new building constructed mainly of timber and glass had gone up on the campus; it provides accommodation for the Sisters on the top two floors, as well as extra facilities for the students. The Sisters were due to move there from Begbroke last October, just as this book was going to press.

Yet another recent change of heart is recorded by Valerie Bonham. In 2004, the Sisters decided to elect a leadership team of three rather than "have the weight of leadership fall upon a single pair of shoulders". But, only five years later, the idea of a team was abandoned in favour of a "community leader" (admittedly not a mother-superior). No reason is given exactly why the second change was deemed necessary.

Like other religious communities, CSJB is having to cope with the problems of ageing membership and shortage of recruits. Indeed, Bonham hints in her closing pages that the Community may be nearing the end of its active life. "While the English CSJB may no longer be in a position to receive novices due to the age of the remaining Sisters, the presence of the Sisters will bring a new dimension into the life of the student body (at Cuddesdon). . . And, rather than wait to die out, this final move will bring the English work of the CSJB to its conclusion in a positive way."

Dr Palmer is a former editor of the  Church Times.

*This title can be obtained from the Sisters: The Community of St John Baptist, Harriet Monsell House, Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford OX44 9EX.

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