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In the habit of winning souls

09 September 2016

Jonathan Ewer enjoys the Community of the Holy Name’s new account of its history


What’s in a Name? A history of the Community of the Holy Name
Petá Dunstan, editor
Moorleys Print and Publishing £12.95
Church Times Bookshop £11.65



THERE is a lovely coloured photograph on the front cover: a gate, partly opened, inviting you to duck under a Virginia creeper in its autumnal glory, and enter a garden. There’s a sermon in that. . .

There are also a great many photographs, of nuns and their buildings, throughout the book, but they are not coloured, obviously because many of them are very old. At first, these look boring — indeed, the book looks boring — but, as you get into it, the very nicely written text and the pictures grab your attention.

The book is in two parts: the first was written some time ago, and contains a detailed account of the founders of the community in the parish of Vauxhall in south London, and those who influenced them. There is a short biography of the evangelist Robert Aitken and his followers, among whom was Fr Herbert, the parish priest of Vauxhall. After a chapter on him and his parish, there are chapters on the first Sisters.

There is a chapter on Mother Frances Mary, the “real foundress”, on the increase in the number of works, and the Sisters to carry them out, and on the move to Malvern Link. It is a story of conversions and missions, of dedication and generous service on the part of middle-class ladies doing what they could to ease the lot of the poor.

The chapter on the Community’s interpretation of its life and object recounts how the notion of a religious community grew out of situations and the interaction of personalities. It was never “planned as an end in itself”; the vows were a means of enabling the Sisters in “winning to Jesus the souls for whom He died”.

There are chapters on the devotional life of the community, and on governance and organisation, which demonstrate the commitment of the Sisters to mission, their energy, and their remarkable ability to change.

Later chapters tell the story of the expansion of the Sisters’ work in the UK and overseas, in Canada, and Liberia, of the superiors after Mother Francis Mary, and of the community’s relations with the Anglican Church (including other religious orders) and other churches as well.

The second part of the book tells the story of the past 40 years or so. There are chapters on what has been happening in the UK, Lesotho, and South Africa, the changes in organisation, and the move from Malvern Link to Derby. It brings us up to date as the community celebrates its first 150 years.

It is a very impressive story, an inspiration to all who want to see how other people discover God’s will for them. It is also an encouragement to be observant and realistic — and to be brave enough to change when circumstances demand it.


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