The Society of St Margaret
The Priory of Our Lady, Walsingham
A recognised community within the Church of England
Sr Mary Teresa's memorial service 3rd July 2021
Sermon given by Bp Peter Wheatley
'If in Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection.' (Romans 6.5)
There is much in Sister Teresa's life where we can see the marks of Our Lord's sacrifice. The offering of her life at the young age of 20 to become a Sister of the Society of St Margaret, giving up university studies and other opportunities. And then later in life the physical suffering endured with a variety of stays in hospital, compounded later by failing mental faculties too. But imitating Christ in his sacrifice, she abundantly imitated him in his resurrection, where abundant life begins in the here and now.
Teresa could radiate joy. Where she was around, there was a lot of laughter. Teresa attracted people to life in Christ. I remember her as a very effective Chaplain to the students at the University Church in London – many of whom have gone on to be leaders in their own church communities. And it wasn't just students to whom she was a great evangelist. Teresa had been Parish Sister at Holy Cross, Cromer Street in Central London, and when I became Parish Priest, it was Teresa's work with young people and families that I and my team built upon.
Six months after she had been elected Mother at Haggerston, Teresa invited me and the congregation to see the new Priory. She greeted us warmly and then introduced us to the Sister standing by her. 'This is Mother Natalie.' 'Sister Natalie' came the quiet voice. Teresa burst into laughter. She couldn't get used to being Mother. But she was an effective leader at Haggerston throughout the '80's, attracting others to join the Sisters in their community life.
The divisions caused by the Church of England's decisions in1992 brought Teresa and other Sisters to Walsingham. The Sisters came from different religious communities with different formations, some more and some less. Teresa had to struggle to bring everyone together into a community of prayer and service: service in the Shrine and service in the local parishes. But as at Haggerston younger women were again attracted to try their vocation to the religious life. And as she settled down here, Teresa saw opportunities. She persuaded the Sisters that St Margaret's Cottage, as it became, needed restoring so as to be able to welcome guests. I remember Sister Alma as Bursar was aghast. Where were we going to get all that money? But Teresa would just say that they had to have faith. Then a year later I came on formal Visitation with a sister from another community who was shocked that the Sisters had almost no enclosure – guests everywhere, no space to be together as a community. So again Teresa resolved to build the conservatory to receive guests – again to Sister Alma's consternation.
It seemed to me that the wise Rule for the Society established by John Mason Neale fitted Teresa well – that careful balance between the contemplative life of prayer and worship and active service of the poor: interpreted here not only as the rural poor but the poor in spirit who come on pilgrimage. But on reflection it may be truer to say that the Rule of the Society moulded Teresa well. The Rule sets a high standard for reading and daily prayer and worship. As a young novice there would have been considerable sacrifice in keeping the Rule and that formation served the Church well. True attention is a rare gift, but if you have been attentive to the Lord in prayer, you may also be able to be attentive to his faithful people. Teresa was good listener and a wise counsellor. There were always pilgrims and other people wanting to talk to her.
So the Lord made of Mary Teresa an evangelist, a person of faith, of adventure, with both the innocence and the wisdom the Lord commands – 'innocent as doves, wise as serpents', a faithful member of the Society of St Margaret, a loving servant of her Lord and Master, to whom we now commend her with much affection. She who imitated him in his death also imitates him in his resurrection.
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