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Half Yearly Paper - November 2004 - April 2005

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Sister Florence S.E. 1903 - 2004

Sister Florence S.E. 1903 - 2004

Sister Florence S.E.

You will all have heard by now of the death of our dear Sister Florence in Behala on 17 April, in her 101st year. Mercifully she had only a short illness. Even on her deathbed she remembered her friends, and many of us cherish a last handwritten note from her of love and greetings for Easter. Although disabled by 'funny knees' in her last few years she remained active in benevolence, and the Editor will miss deciphering, in that characteristic handwriting in different coloured inks and covering every inch of the smallest possible bits of paper, her accounts for the Magazine of her efforts to relieve hardship among her neighbours in Kolkata and in the poor villages outside, of her Poor Children's Music Chance, and of the little boys in St. Nicholas's orphanage whom she loved, and for whom there was always a special tin of sweets. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Obituaries were published in the London Times on 4 May, and in the Church Times on 7 May: the former is reproduced on p. 11 together with other tributes.

The Sisterhood of the Epiphany

Sister Florence was born in the year the Sisterhood of the Epiphany was founded, and was the last of the Sisterhood still in India. But we still have Mother Winifred, who had to leave Bangladesh with the two then remaining Sisters in January 1993 when it became obvious that Father Golding had not long to live (he died in July). But she continues to support and pray for the Mission in the Convent in Suffolk where she now lives, and contributes some more of her 'Memories of Bengal' (p.22). And the indigenous Sisterhood, the Christa Sevika Sangha at Jobarpar, which is flourishing under its Superior Mother Susila, was founded by her in 1970 as an offshoot of the Sisterhood at Barisal. The tradition is steadfastly carried on, and we pray that it may continue as long as it is needed, under God's will.

Visit of Arijeet and Kanchan Roy

Arijeet has been Administrator of the a.M. at Behala, Kolkata for nearly three years, and this was his first visit to the U.K. and the first time many of us had met him and his wife, Kanchan. It was wonderful to have them at the Festival, and to hear first-hand news from him of the situation at Behala. He loves the Mission, and is full of vigour and enthusiasm for the work.

St Nicholas' boys - Sister's 'little birds' - in the porch of her cottage

St Nicholas' boys - Sister's 'little birds' - in the porch of her cottage

Playing Carrom

Playing Carrom

Arijeet and Kanchan arrived on 19 June for a month's visit, and Mary Marsh arranged for them to meet as many of us, and see as many places, as possible in the time. They stayed with Committee members and other supporters in Winchester, Romsey, Oxfordshire, the Isle of Wight, Somerset and Suffolk, and attended the Archbishop of Canterbury's Reception for Overseas Visitors and Mission Partners at Lambeth Palace. Finally, escorted by the Revd. Alwyn Jones they managed a lightning visit to France! They returned to India on 18 July, taking with them much goodwill and many hopes for the future.

The Festival Service and Meeting

The experiment of having our Festival this year in Winchester instead of London was a great success. About 45 people attended the Eucharist in St. Paul's Church, St. Paul's Road, Winchester - many more than we have had for our London meetings in recent years. We ate a delicious lunch, of Indian food provided by the Gandhi Restaurant, Winchester and sandwiches made by Mary Marsh; and heard Arijeet Roy, Administrator at the O.M. Behala, tell us about the work going on there.

At the Service, the Celebrant was Bishop Bill Down and the Revd. Alwyn Jones preached the Sermon. John Corrie and Gill Wilson read the Lessons, and Lilias Redpath led the Intercessions.

At the Lunch it was a joy to see so many of our supporters, old and new, all with different connections with the Mission, and there were some happy meetings. Newcomers to the Festival included Tony Sharp, who was brought by Barbara Shuttleworth: Tony's son spent a gap year helping at Behala in 1981 (Father Theodore described Sam in a letter home as 'SPLENDID!'); and Bernard Palmer, a former Editor of the Church Times, whose father was Treasurer of the O.M. in the 1950s.

Florence Simmonds O.B.E. (nee Priest) worked at Bollobhpur Hospital in Bangladesh from 1947 to 1975, and over that time visited Behala and Barisal and made friends with the Sisters and Fathers. She has been a faithful member of the Fellowship of the Epiphany since her return to the UK. Tony Davidson from Oxford had been in Calcutta in the 1960s working for the British Council: his wife Bridget played the cello in the Calcutta String Orchestra, and Father Thorman B.E. was her spiritual director.

We were fortunate in having Euan Davidson to play the organ at the Service. His aunt was Sister Esther S.E., who started St. Joseph's Primary School at Behala so many years ago. It is still flourishing, with 640 pupils.

Sister Florence S.E. was affectionately remembered by all who had known her, and it was good to meet her nephew Roger Bunce and his wife Janet, and her niece Veronica Barley and her husband (Veronica sadly has since died.) Their daughter Emma was there: with her friend Ben she had visited Sister in Behala a few weeks before her death. Caroline McDowall also came with her parents Don and Marjorie Beaven. Caroline was born in India, and she too visited Sister 'just in time'. Both Caroline and Emma wrote accounts of their visits in our last issue.

Among our regular supporters we welcomed Barbara Mathieson, Father Theodore's sister, now 92 and still fully active. Ann Mitchell and her sister brought news of their mother Gladys Clayton, who worked in the O.M. Office for many years when it was in London. Freda Davis brought a son and daughter who had both been on an exchange visit playing music at Behala in 1991, and the family have been back since.

Sister Ann Patricia came from the Sisters of Bethany at Portsmouth: they gave kind hospitality to our Sisters from Barisal when they first returned to Britain in 1993. Bill Markham was a friend of Roger Radice, recently deceased (see last issue), who loved the Mission and helped so much with its music.

A name full of interest was that of Eileen Argles, for Marsham Argles was one of the earliest Fathers who went out to Calcutta to join the Oxford Mission in 1881, and Edith Argles was Secretary to the Mission in the early 1900s. Miss Argles was kind enough to send us information about the Revd. Marsham Argles (see p. 24 ).

There were many more: but it was time for the Meeting, and Arijeet Roy's speech.

"The Mission never ends," said Arijeet. "It grows, and the problems grow. I bring greetings from the Oxford Mission boys and staff, and from the Oxford Mission Trust Association, to the Chairman and Committee. The people of Behala are fond of the Mission. They call me Father - I am a Father without a cassock! I had hoped to be the bearer of greetings from Sister Florence 'to the lovely friends of the OM': but it was not God's will.

"In the OM things have changed, for it cannot remain static. The world is not helpful to missions: you help with support, love and service. You are saints and angels! Because of you so many boys live today who might have died when they were six or seven. Now they are grown up - God working through you. Father Douglass cut wood with his own hands, for fuel to cook the children's food. I am a Mouse compared with him!

"The OM children are doing well in studies, sports and music. Seven boys passed entrance to the Indian Navy Band - all who applied. That is a record. The boys have to learn gratefulness - not to forget to say 'thank you'.

"We have got to have some young people, who will support the Mission. Emma and Ben, you must try to interest young people!

"Sister Florence is not here any more. What do I do? I can get on without the Brothers, but not the Sisterhood!

"We had a girls' hostel, Nazareth House, supported by the Germans who have now withdrawn: 960 children were to be thrown out. They asked if funds could come through the Oxford Mission to run the Homes for another three years. 'Arijeet will help'. Here comes Father Christmas! I draw strength from you.

"We want to develop some of our land, but we need money of course. Our boys should have the best, and not be considered as second-hand children. I consider them as my own children. There is land which has been unused for 100 years. Prayer, kindness and support are needed. There is now no more tax on charitable donations, and I have saved one lakh of rupees.

"Father Mathieson's memorial: it will be built. There have been endless taxes. We did not have the deeds - they were lost when the Mission moved from Vivekanandra Street to Behala. Now they are found, and it will be built. We have waited so long - wait a little more. It will be started shortly, and we will make it very good. There will be an auditorium, and practice rooms on the side. This is a commitment to Father Mathieson's family, and everyone in the OM wants this.

New Boys - all under 8 - with their Didi

New Boys - all under 8 - with their Didi

Study time

Study time

The Sick Room

The Sick Room

Sunday: washing-day for boys

Sunday: washing-day for boys

"The Mission is blessed by God, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God. The boys are happy, and often don't want to go home. I have to say, you must go home! Prayer must be there, support must be there. We need young people to help and support the saints and angels around.

"Walkers: there are too many of them walking the O.M. compound all day. The Barisha Sporting Club wants to play cricket on our ground all the time. I have had to restrict the hours the walkers and cricketers use our field. I say to them, 'Is your wife dead?' They say 'No, she is alive.' 'Oh,' I say, 'I thought she was dead. You should go home to her straight away!'

"The Mission is doing well. My wife and I have gratitude and love to you all for inviting us here."

After a welcome cup of tea we dispersed into the sunshine with the knowledge of renewed fellowship and commitment. Bernard Palmer (see above) summed it up in a letter to the Editor afterwards: "The gathering seemed to me a real triumph, not least for the enthusiasm for the Mission which was everywhere apparent. You've obviously found a real winner in Arijeet Roy, and he looks set to guide the Mission in the years ahead with competence and zest."

Please note that we will not be having a Festival in 2005, as no-one will be able to come out from the Mission to talk to us. We hope for another in 2006.

Anu Biswas

We were sorry to hear that Miss Anu Biswas, an old and dear friend of the Mission, had died in her village in Nadia Province, Bengal. She will be mourned by all who knew her. Father Theodore mentions with gratitude in his collected Letters (see Publications page) the help she gave him with the boys, often taking in for the holidays those who had no family at all to go to, including the 'difficult' ones. Betty Houghton, who ran Nazareth House, the C.M.S. orphanage for girls, for many years on the O.M. compound at Behala and had known Anu since she first came out to India, has written a touching tribute to her 'first Bengali friend' (p. 23)

'Surprised by Joy!' by Sister Jane of the Cross

Dr. Margaret Dawe, who worked at the O.M. in Bangladesh during the 1960s, was interested to read the review of Sister Jane's book in our last issue. She lives at St. Katharine's House, Wantage, where Mother Angela and Sister Jane hope to move, and points out that 'St. Katharine's (with a middle 'a' not an 'e') is a House and not a Home, and not St. Mary's and not a Nursing Home. It is officially a 'care home for the elderly' with St. Luke's Nursing Wing attached.' She hopes Mother Angela and Sister Jane will be happy with them - 'they loved the Chapel and will appreciate a daily Eucharist'.

St. John's Church, Calcutta

Our long-time friend and supporter, Mrs. Lorna M. Bell from Florida, U.S.A., has sent for our interest a copy of the very first issue of the Parish Paper of St. John's Church, Calcutta, dated Apri11949. It has an introductory message from her father, 'Padre Claude Jackson', and there is an article on the 'St. John's Women's Auxiliary' by Lorna's sister, Pat Lavalette. If anyone whose memory goes back to that time would like to have it, the Editor will be pleased to send it to them.

Lent Boxes

Please let Mary Marsh at the Office know how many you need.

Love and best wishes as always from the Mission in the U.K. to our supporters throughout the world. Don't forget that our web-site is there to keep you up-to-date.


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