Poor Clares leave Baddesley

Archbishop Bernard with the community

Archbishop Bernard with the community

A few hours after an emotional Mass of Thanksgiving for 160 years of the Poor Clares at Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, the four remaining members of the contemplative monastic community left the convent for the last time.

The oldest, Sister Angela joined the community during the Holy Year of 1950, 61 years ago.

The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, presided and preached at the Mass celebrated in the parish church of St Francis of Assisi on Saturday 8 January.

The village church was packed to capacity as friends and supporters from far-and-wide joined parishioners for the deeply prayerful and poignant occasion, tinged with sadness.

Afterwards the Archbishop of Birmingham described the closure as "an irrevocable loss to the Archdiocese of Birmingham", during an interview for ITV local news.

The Poor Clares were founded by St Clare of Assisi and St Francis of Assisi on Palm Sunday in the year 1212 and spread throughout Europe.  Their primary vocation was a contemplative life to pray for the needs of the world in seclusion.  At Baddesley Clinton the Poor Clares were also involved in running a local school.  

In 1850, a group of six sisters arrived in Warwickshire from Bruges and the Poor Clare Community of Baddesley Clinton was the first community of Poor Clares of the Colettine Reform to be re-established in England after the Reformation.

The community had close links with Blessed John Henry Newman who lived in the Oratory house in Edgbaston, Birmingham.  This holy parish priest used to visit the sisters and bring provisions given by his parishioners - they used to leave these in a box at the back of the church situated next to the Oratory House.

The sisters were extremely poor and Cardinal Newman also brought other gifts, including Christmas and Easter hampers at his own expense.

Sister Felicity, Mother Abbess, and two members of the Poor Clare Community at Baddesley Clinton, attended the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman by Pope Benedict XVI during Mass at Cofton Birmingham Park Birmingham, on Sunday 19 September 2010.

Before Archbishop Bernard Longley gave the final blessing at the Mass of Thanksgiving the Master of Ceremonies Fr John Sharp, the Diocesan Archivist and Parish Priest of St Francis of Assisi and Chaplain to the Poor Clares at Baddesley Clinton, announced that the sisters wished to give the scull cap given to the community by Blessed John Henry Newman to the Archbishop of Birmingham.

Mother Felicity presented the specially mounted scull cap warn by Blessed John Henry Newman to Archbishop Longley.

To warm applause the Archbishop announced that the scull cap would be kept at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, where it is planned to set up a special shine to Blessed John Henry Newman following his beatification.

The 13 concelebrants included Mgr Mark Crisp, Rector of St Mary's College Oscott, the diocesan seminary, and other members of staff.

The convent featured in the media in December 1993 following a fire that destroyed part of the convent after Christmas Eve Midnight Mass.

Canon Gerry Breen, once a seminarian at Oscott and now Dean of St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, vividly remembers that at the request of the Rector he got a group of seminarians together on Boxing Day to assist the nuns in clearing up after the fire.

During his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley warmly thanked the sisters of the Poor Clare community: Sister Felicity, Revered Mother Abbess; Sister Angela; Sister Mary and Sister Anna-Lisa on behalf of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

The Archbishop of Birmingham said: "Our prayerful gathering today is not a lament but a hope filled thanksgiving for a remarkable witness to Christ, in the spirit of St Francis of Assisi and St Clare that the sisters have shown in this setting for 160 years."   

 Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: "The community of the Poor Clares of Baddesley Clinton has been to us and previous generations a gift of the Holy Spirit, and a witness to Christ's faithfulness to his people.  As we offer this Mass of Thanksgiving we also invoke the Lord's continued blessing on each of the sisters and the Poor Clare communities who will receive them."

Before the Mass of Thanksgiving, Sister Felicity and the members of the community graciously allowed me the rare opportunity of going into their enclosure in the large parlour to take pictures of them with Archbishop Bernard Longley.

The Reverend Mother Abbess told a BBC local radio programme on Friday 7 January that the convent was closing. "Its is sad for the sisters concerned when a monastery closes but we are in God's service so we go wherever he directs us to.

"Our religious life will carry on wherever we are. We will continue to pray for all the people who have asked for our prayers over the years and for those who need our prayer."

Mother Abbess added: “There is a general lack in numbers of people joining religious houses throughout the whole of Europe. Houses have to close due to this. The future is in God's hands and we trust him for vocations."

After the Mass of Thanksgiving, Mary Daniels, who has a life-long connection with the Poor Clares, said: "Mother Paula was my Godmother in London two years before she entered the convent. She was the youngest sister of my Father who at that time was London Editor of The Birmingham Mail.

"Since Mother Paula entered the convent it has been part of the life of our family, visiting, writing, exchanging gifts and of course, praying for each other. During the war my family lived in Chadwick End. I made my First Holy Communion at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Baddesley Clinton and was also Confirmed there by Bishop Bernard Griffin, (later Cardinal Griffin) and went to the little school there where some of the teachers were nuns from the convent.

 "Mother Paula, my aunt, who died in June 2002, was Mother Abbess for many years and at the time when the Christmas fire happened."

Mary Daniels added: "I feel honoured to have had such a prestigious and wonderful Godmother and a lifetime’s connection with such a holy and peaceful place. It is sad that the convent has to close after 160 years of prayer."

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