What seeds were sown before us?
Many centuries ago the faith came to Britain through the lives of great Saints like Augustine, Cuthbert and Columba. Through the centuries, generations have known and loved the Lord even to the point of giving their lives for their belief in him at the time of persecution in the 1500’s
The chronicles of the Houses tell the story of the first Missionary Sisters who came to England in 1902; only one was English, the others did not know the language yet they started an Oratory on the very first Sunday. They came to cater for the Salesian Priests and Brothers and to minister to Italian immigrants but the work expanded over the years. The first Sisters brought the Spirit of Mornese, the Family Spirit, the Da Mihi Animas. They prayed and they worked and they prayed as they worked. Their spirit of sacrifice laid strong foundations and left an example to follow.
What did we do?
The early Sisters expanded the work little by little, they did not wait for perfect buildings or the ideal time, they went ahead in faith using what they had, where they were and as the need arose they rose to it with trust in God and in Mary Help of Christian.
They worked for the Salesians, opened Oratories, taught Catechism, cared for Italian immigrants. Gradually the work expanded and extended; children came to board, even little boys. Some Sisters taught even untrained because the schools were private. Girls were sent to learn needlework and Italian and gradually clubs formed to teach sewing to working girls just as Mother Mazzarello did. Money was always short and the work was hard but the greater the sacrifice the more ardent the zeal and a beautiful spirit flowed through the simplicity of the life lived and attracted more and more vocations to the FMA. There was no such thing as holidays for the Sisters but they organised Summer holidays for children and Summer Camps grew out of these and happily today Vides continues to take up the tradition started so many years ago. It was very expensive to send Sisters to train as teachers very few enjoyed this privilege until student grants became available. This enabled the Superiors to get more and more Sisters trained to teach.
Our Sisters went out begging from door to door to raise funds for the building of our secondary school in Chertsey. It was a mile stone for the Province when it was recognised by the State; this opened up new possibilities as more money was available for further expansion and development. Other works undertaken according to the needs arose:
• Caring for Prisoners of War in Cowley
• catechising at the Borstal near Henley
• caring for offenders on Community Service in Kendal
• working with Asylum Seekers in Liverpool and Glasgow
• Retreat work in many places,
• Vocation promotion and Exhibitions.
• Work with the Cooperators.
• Teaching English to Foreign Students and to FMA Missionaries.
• worked among the young,
• trying to live alongside them and their families in schools, parishes, clubs, youth ministries.
• The “Market Apostolate” of Providence.
• Parish Ministry.
• Chaplaincy work
• All was carried out with the fervour and joy of the charism, the Spirit of Mornese
Where did we do it?
• London: Goodge Street, Greek Street, Battersea, Streatham, Rotherhithe
• Oxford: Elmthorpe, St. Joseph’s
• Chertsey: Eastworth Road, Highfield, Sandgates, Windlesham, Dovercourt,
• Bromley Cross
• Liverpool: Croxteth, Millvale, Gillmoss, Blundellsands
• Scotland: Paisley, Milton, Easterhouse, Johnstone, Newmains, Nitshill
• South Africa
Challenges we meet Today.
• Today our numbers may be few but our desire to continue reaching out to the young remains undiminished.
• The challenge of understanding the youth culture, sharing social values and living in a materialistic and secular society call on us to be ever more holy, dedicated and creative.
• One of the great challenges today is the change in family life. We have to learn to look at the family differently
• Not only are Catholics a minority in Britain, but there is at present a strong anti-religious campaign in the media and press.
• Abuse of young children by clerics and religious has led to lack of respect for the church. Moral teaching about sexual matters lacks credence in the eyes of many teenagers.
• Britain is multicultural, and this affects our mission especially in London. We have to learn to listen and share and be enriched
• Many adults are not catechised themselves and this can pose a problem when preparing their children for the sacraments.
New ways of Evangelising
• We need a fresh start
• We want to be open to other Christians and to be seen to be respectful.
• When young adults form faith groups they catechise each other.
• When they are offered the responsibility of sharing in catechetical preparation of children, young people can have a really positive contribution to make.
• The Media in all its forms is the obvious way forward as that is the Mecca the young today.
• Preparing the young for ‘Youth to Youth Ministry’. Continuing Volunteering possibilities in various fields.
• Providing a ‘Forum’ for young people to talk to us as FMA and tell us what they need and want while we LISTEN to them.
• Providing an attractive and alternative space for them.
• Have great faith in the Lord and in our Salesian charism and spirit, it works, use it confidently.