Sunday, June 05, 2011


It was a wonderful occasion, a gathering of my old convent school. Greatly daring, I bought the tickets for flying from Florence to Gatwick, arriving at St Leonards-on-Sea, to the television cameras zooming in on Joanna Lumley's arrival, for she too is an Old Girl of our school, why our English is so 'posh', so 'Queen's English'. I was coming back, the professed veiled hermit, too, of our Community of the Holy Family, the most learned community once in the Church of England, whose nuns at Profession were required to have New Testament Greek and encouraged to have Old Testament Hebrew, and who tutored the Lambeth Diploma. I became their librarian, book-binder, floor scrubber and dish washer for four years, caring for my dying teachers, Mother Gwendolyn, Sisters Joan and Eileen, and having visited Sister Barbara. My own learning had come from them, from tall, kind, brilliant Sister Veronica, who knew Greek and Hebrew, and who had taught me at six years old in the midst of flying bombs. I took that schooling to America at sixteen, gaining a doctorate in medieval literature at Berkeley, teaching there and at Princeton, coming to Florence during the summers to study manuscripts in the Laurentian Library and elsewhere.

Our Mother Foundress, Agnes Mason, C.H.F., dreamed of founding the Community of the Holy Family while sitting in an olive tree above Florence, a setting to which I had come fleeing from trauma in the Community. So I brought copies of Mother Agnes' prayer for the teachers of her Community, and also her motto, taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'Let us be borne along by the Spirit', 'Pherometha'. I also brought blessed olive leaves, and many Old Girls thanked me for them though I did not explain they were for trauma healing. This is not needed. Though healing is. Then I visited the little graveyard with its simple iron crosses, each with a Sister's name, remembering the time I had fled, sobbing, to lie beside Mother Agnes' grave, then to find myself actually between hers and that of Sister Faith, whose death I remembered as a school girl, Sister Faith herself an Old Girl of the school, who became its nurse and who rebelled against the corruption that began with Mother Mildred, Mother Agnes' successor. It was as if the arms of both of them enfolded me, telling me that all would be well.

Sussex is so very beautiful. The next day I went to Hasting's Quaker Meeting and Harry Underhill then showed me the lovely view from his house, all healing and such kindness everwhere, particularly from Ember Wilcock and Daphne Hughes.