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, writes Peter Jennings.
The oldest, Sister Angela joined the community during the Holy Year of 1950, 61 years ago. Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham presided and preached at the Mass celebrated in the parish church of St Francis of Assisi on Saturday January 8.
The village church was packed to capacity as friends and supporters from far and wide joined parishioners for the deeply prayerful and poignant occasion.
Afterwards the Archbishop of Birmingham described the closure as “an irrevocable loss to the Archdiocese of Birmingham”.
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 in seclusion for the needs of the world. 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 poor and Cardinal Newman brought other gifts, including Christmas and Easter hampers at his own expense.
Sister Felicity, Reverend 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 Park, Birmingham, on September 19 2010.
Before Archbishop 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 archbishop the skullcap which was given to the community by Blessed John Henry Newman. Mother Felicity then presented the specially mounted skullcap to Archbishop Longley.
To warm applause the archbishop announced that the skullcap would be kept at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, where it is planned to set up a special shrine 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. During his homily Archbishop Longley warmly thanked the Sisters of the Poor Clare community: Sister Felicity, Reverend Mother Abbess; Sister Angela; Sister Mary and Sister Anna-Lisa on behalf of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
He 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.
“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.”
The Mother Abbess said religious houses throughout Europe were having to close owing to lack of vocations and added: “The future is in God’s hands.”