Archives Blog March 2018

Archives are about people, too!

In this blog, I don’t want just to talk about the SMG heritage collections, rich as they are, but also about some of the personalities connected with the archives, who have contributed so much to the work over the years. So I am particularly pleased to be able to reproduce the photograph above, which relates to a modest but very joyous event which took place at Maryfield Convent, Roehampton, in April 2014. This was a tea party, reception and presentation intended to recognise and celebrate the work of my colleague Sr Sheila Lee SMG (centre) in re-transcribing one of the most important spiritual works of the founder, Venerable Mother Magdalen Taylor: her Instructions on the Rule. This compilation is the founder’s own commentary, interpretation and exhortation to the Sisters on the content of the congregation’s Rule and Constitutions, the most important document in defining the Sisters’ work, mission and spirit.

The picture shows also Sr Mary Whelan (left), the then Superior-General of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, and the late Sr Madeleine Ryan RIP, one of the governing council of the congregation, who for a number of years had the oversight of the archives. There is also a great poignancy here for all those who knew Sr Madeleine, who very sadly died not long afterwards, on Good Shepherd Sunday, April 2016, while still in office.

This publication, however, represents only a small part of the contribution made by Sr Sheila to the work of the archives, on which she has laboured for more than twenty years, prior to (and partly during) which she worked as a nurse in various care homes administered by the SMGs. Her many and varied tasks in the archives have included the reception and cataloguing of records, books and objects, archival packaging, and indexing of library items, and Sr Sheila has played a particularly vital role in the collection and documentation of internal congregational publications. Sr Sheila’s knowledge of the French language has also been particularly valuable over the years, given the French influence on the charism of the congregation, which was present from the earliest years.

As with Sr Mary Kenefick, who has been referred to in a previous post, Sr Sheila has a great love of art, and has been much involved for many years in the production of art works, mainly oil paintings of landscapes and buildings, and she was one of a group of sisters based at St Joseph’s Home in Freshfield, Formby, who were involved in painting and art tuition, and this has borne rich fruit over the years. Many examples of Sr Sheila’s paintings can still be seen at St Joseph’s, and her work is also represented amongst items on display in the Brentford heritage rooms. I am very grateful to Sr Mary Whelan for donating this beautiful image to the archives, and for allowing us to use it here.

I am also very glad to be able to acknowledge here the work of Alison Quinlan (shown left in the photo with her husband Mike), made during the period of eight years which she worked with us as a volunteer, following the completion of her MA dissertation on Mother Magdalen Taylor’s early spiritual development. In all she was working with the archives for a period of about thirteen years.

The occasion of this tribute is Alison’s retirement with her family to Wareham in Dorset, and we all at St Mary’s Brentford will greatly miss her warm friendship and enthusiasm. It would be impossible here to provide a summation of the many projects to which she contributed. But her efforts in cataloguing the papers of Mother Magdalen’s family, and in creating a genealogical database of the Taylor family, cannot pass without notice here. That work also bore further fruit in her account of the short life of Mother Magdalen’s nephew 2nd-Lieutenant

C E B Dean, another tragic victim of the Great War – entitled Fragments of the Storm – which was published by the SMGs following the appearance of an earlier version in the journal of the Catholic Archives Society. This is in addition to her substantial contribution to the Mother Magdalen letters project mentioned in a previous post.

Very fortunately, Alison’s own account of her work with the congregation, ‘A Volunteer’s Tale’, was delivered as a presentation to the Annual Conference of the Catholic Archives Society in 2016, and later published in the journal of the society (Catholic Archives no 37, 2017). The photograph reflects one of the many activities taken up by Alison in her new home – as a member of the ‘Purbeck Village Quire’ which is one of the pioneering groups singing in the traditional ‘West Gallery’ style prevalent in Anglican churches in the Georgian period – and which involves the participants bravely dressing in contemporary costume for public performances. We are most grateful to Alison and Mike for sharing the image with us, and are pleased to convey her greetings to all who continue to value her friendship amongst the SMGs and the Catholic archival community.


Paul Shaw