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Obituary: Sister Gillian Mary SSC

by
02 June 2023

The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS writes:

IN 1923, exactly 100 years ago, a band of six Anglican Sisters moved from their home in Chichester to found a contemplative monastic house in Wales — Tymawr Convent, in the heart of rural Monmouthshire. Sister Gillian Mary lived for more than 50 years at Tymawr and was Reverend Mother for 21 years.

Sister Gillian Mary was born Gillian Fraser, in London, in 1938, and was educated at Bath and Lancaster universities. She taught religious studies in inner-city Birmingham and London, and took groups of children to Iona to experience worship and community. It was on the island of Iona that she herself experienced God’s call to the monastic life; she entered Tymawr in 1972.

During her leadership, Sister Gillian Mary was eager to enable an enclosed community to reach out to embrace a wider community so that others could find God in silence, solitude, and prayer. She was a great encourager and enabled others to explore their God-given gifts; her monastic call to hospitality extended not only to the convent guests, but to embracing new ideas and innovative ways of being a community of contemplative prayer. Gillian was deeply rooted and relaxed in her love and knowledge of Christ.

Gillian found the conflict that comes with change difficult to handle, and leadership took its toll. In the 1980s, she experienced her own “dark night of the soul”, but remained faithful to her vocation, showing great courage and never losing her loving compassion and delight in nature. She improved and developed the convent grounds in collaboration with Gwent Wildlife Trust, and welcomed poets, theologians, and artists for talks, study days, and retreats.

At her funeral requiem, the community’s Warden, Bishop Rowan Williams, spoke of Sister Gillian’s stability, creativity, and continuing work. When I visited her during her final days, she typically brushed aside concerns about herself and wanted to talk about my own interests and life. She had that rare gift of making others feel that they were better people simply by having been in her presence.

She was herself a gifted poet and some of her poems have been published in Tides of the Spirit.

“May I ever remain
beneath that fruitful tree
where all creation moves
His prayer begins to sing in my heart.”

(May I ever remain here; Profession day Epiphany 1975)

 

Sister Gillian Mary died on 12 April, in the 49th year of her profession, and is buried at Tymawr.

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