Norfolk Sister's life was an inspiration to many
By David Patey
2009: When a nun writes an autobiography, you do not expect it to be called ‘The Men in My Life’. Then again, not many nuns are sent to prison by their Reverend Mother just after they have entered the Convent.
Sister Winifred Mary CAH, MBE, who has died at the age of 90, joined the Community of All Hallows at Ditchingham, South Norfolk, when she was 49. Her sister was already a member of the Community, but Winifred Mary felt she should care for her mother before following her own vocation to the religious life.
Before coming to the Convent she had trained and worked as a teacher, and she expected that she would continue this work when she joined the Community. God had other ideas, however, and in 1972 the Community received a request from the Chaplain at Blundeston Prison to help with the pastoral work with the prisoners.
For the next 26 years Sr Winifred Mary visited prisoners and listened to their stories. She realised that many of them could not read or write, and so she taught them. Then she encouraged them to express themselves in poetry.
IN her book, she said: “Not all of them took to it but some did. They liked it. I started off with Kipling, who was one of my favourite poets – his poems often tell a story. Very gradually, some of the men began to write poetry for themselves. I was amazed at the quality of some of them. And when they got the hang of it, all their pent-up feelings began to come out in their writings: they could pour it all out. It was as though they had to empty themselves before they could take anything different in, any new way of life or a new attitude. And for those men who found a faith, that seemed to happen automatically.”
In 1990, Sr Winifred Mary was awarded the MBE for her prison work. And she said: “I took an old prisoner with me to the Palace because I thought ‘He’s part of the reason I’ve got the MBE so why shouldn’t he come with me?’ And he did and he said it was the happiest day of his life.”
She was not only a teacher and prison chaplain: she trained as a horticulturalist under Percy Thrower, and put her skills to good use in designing the rockery in the Sisters’ garden at Ditchingham.
Sr Winifred Mary died on November 11. Her funeral was at the Convent Chapel on November 30 and then was buried in the Convent cemetery next to her sister.
Sr Winifred Mary was interviewed by Pat Richards
in 2008, and Pat edited their conversations to produce ‘The men in my life’ (ISBN 978-0-9551267-6-5).
Please add your tributes to, or memories of, Sister Winifred Mary below.