O.M. CALCUTTA, LONG AGO
In this year of the Mission's 125th anniversary, it is good to honour the lives and ministry of earlier workers in the field, as well as those of their successors today. Two of our supporters have personal 'memories of long ago '.
The Revd. Canon H. P. Burgess was born and brought up in Calcutta.
"My earliest recollections are of being taken to 'The Mission House', which was near Calcutta University and a large Hospital in a very congested area of the city. It was the Feast of the Epiphany, and I can never forget the marvellous service for that day, to which 'Friends of the Community' were invited. I can still recall the Processional Hymn, 'From the Eastern Mountains', as the Brethren, Servers and Officiant entered for Solemn Evensong, amid clouds of incense. I asked my parents what work they did, and the answer was that they worked as Chaplains to the Hospital and mainly among the very poor, and the University students, and did a lot of other things besides. They even edited a special newspaper for any at the University who might be interested in Christianity.
"Later on I was introduced to Behala, and joined a large number of folk who went there on Sunday afternoons. We stayed on for Evensong, after chatting to the Brethren and Sisters over a cup of tea, and we enjoyed looking round the School and hearing about their other work. The Chapel was very simple and beautiful.
"Before too long, Father Douglass asked me what I intended to do with my life: he was wonderful with young people, and always gave you the impression that you were the only one he was interested in. (You had to move on, too, for so many sought his counsel.) I remember being allowed to see his room: he slept on a plank, just like the poor Indian folk were used to. Soon he had the boy of 14 going to Brother Cowgill for Greek lessons: 'If you're going to be a priest, you must learn Greek'.
"Brother Cowgill! That became a lifelong friendship, and later on, while I was at University and he home on furlough, I stayed with him and his sisters and enjoyed being taken by them to Lincoln Cathedral and many other places. I learnt such a lot more than Greek from this holy and well-informed man.
"I recall Father Carleton preaching a Lenten course on 'The Ten Commandments'. He was a great preacher and a saintly person. Father Macbeth was someone else I came to revere, too. Father Theodore Mathieson and I became friends, and corresponded regularly. His great joy was teaching 'his boys' to enjoy music; how well they did that too, and how proud he was of their achievements and his Orchestra. I recall one of their first concerts at the Cathedral in Calcutta, and years later I heard the Orchestra in Birmingham Cathedral, on one of their visits to the U.K.
"I often went over to the Sisters' Compound, and was always amazed at the serenity and joy they seemed to convey. I came to know Sister Florence well, and I recall Mother Edith and the other Sisters too. After my Ordination, my church would send money and bandages to Sister Florence for her leprosy patients.
"What a wonderful legacy these saintly men and women have bequeathed to the Church in India and Bangladesh! I am sure they rejoice in 'the Nearer Presence' as they aid the work on Earth with their prayers. Their holiness and sense of peace and fulfilment, along with their real concern for the souls and bodies of their charges - and of others, like myself - have left a legacy that will continue for a long time. What a privilege to have known and seen them in action! Laus Deo."
CANON H. P. BURGESS
Two great men of the Brotherhood:
Father Frederick Douglass, B.E came out to the Mission in 1892 and died there in 1949. His name is still revered in India as the founder of 'Douglass boarding'
|Father Theodore Mathieson, B.E. who did so much for the boys' music. He was at the Mission from 1946 to 1993, and died on the eve of the Epiphany, 1994|
John Swallow remembers:
"Soon after I was pressed into service for King and Country in 1943 I was posted to India in order to improve the Royal Air Force signals system. I spent a number of pleasant spells in Calcutta, and whenever I was there I worshipped at St. Paul's Cathedral. It was one of the priests on the staff of that church who asked me if I would like to visit the Oxford Mission at Behala. I had always thought of members of a monastic order as unworldly and wholly unpractical. Instead I saw a lively, flourishing compound swarming with children - most of them orphans - who were being taught and trained by O.M. Brothers and Sisters who were anything but unpractical. Their skills, mainly self-taught of course, were prodigious, and the atmosphere made it for me one of the most joyful and purposeful places I had ever seen.
"That first visit was followed by many others, and I was always greeted by everyone in the compound with enthusiasm and treated with great hospitality. I first met Father Douglass properly on my third or fourth visit, in the tiny open hut on the side of the main road where he lived. From then onwards each visit I made ended with tea and biscuits in the hut with him, sitting in the very confined space beside his simple bed made of rough local wood.
"What did we talk about? Everything under the sun - service life, family affairs, the war, conditions in England when I left for India, and of course the Oxford Mission as an institution and particularly the school and compound at Behala. I enjoyed these conversations immensely, and returned to my R.A.F. station both stimulated and inspired.
"My lasting memory, however, is of someone who bore the title of Superior with such natural and such graceful humility that one might have been talking with a relative or with a friend. This was certainly not my idea of a Superior aloof from others and very plainly in command; and when our conversations were interrupted by children bringing work to be proudly shown and commended, or by one of the Sisters asking about some routine matter, such interruptions were regarded by Father as perfectly natural, and just as important as our exchange on the current Indian political situation - as indeed they were.
"I like to think that when, twenty-five years later, I became head teacher of a large English comprehensive school, I displayed at least a little of Father Douglass's loving, informal authority".
P .S. John Swallow; before writing his article, 'turned for inspiration to Theodore Mathieson's Letters from the Oxford Mission in India, 1946-1993. It is a treasure-house of information about the Mission, of the strongly inspired personal mission that Theodore conducted, and of the joyous informality that characterised the lives of all the members of the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood. I recommend it to readers very strongly'. (See Publications section of this website)