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Lives remembered: Mary Lyons

Mary Lyons, founder of the Girls’ Young Christian Workers movement, has died at the age of 92

By on Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Mary Lyons

Mary Lyons

Mary Lyons, founder of the Girls’ Young Christian Workers movement, has died at the age of 92, writes her husband Austin Lyons.

She, along with Molly Keegan, the only sister of Pat Keegan, started the movement in 1938, a year after the Boys’ Young Christian Workers had been formed at St Joseph’s Church, Wigan, with Pat Keegan and Fr Gerard Rimmer.

From the start the girls found the movement an inspiring new venture into the sphere of Catholic action. Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s principles of “see, judge and act”, based on the study of the scriptures, was an innovation and an outreach for making personal contacts as a means of recruitment for new members.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 brought a halt as far as the boys’ section was concerned. Pat Keegan found himself in the RAF in Aden for most of the time while I was despatched to the Far East, Burma, India, Malaya and Singapore.

On the other hand, the girls seemed to survive and organised several events including Nativity plays, presentations and so on.

Then a remarkable and unique event occurred the like of which I had never encountered. Four of the
girl leaders independently decided to join a religious order. Thrilled by such divine inspiration, they had to organise another re-selection. It was at this event that Mary became the national treasurer of the Girls’ YCW. A small report in the Catholic press misprinted Mary as the “YCW National Treasure”. One of the girls so aptly put it: “We won’t be objecting to that.”

I don’t think it came as a surprise when Mary and I decided to marry on September 1942. Being the first all-YCW wedding in the country merited our photograph appearing in the Girls’ YCW magazine, the cover of which I designed while serving in the RAF in the Hebrides.

In 1944, our son, Christopher, was born and within a few months I found myself aboard a troop ship bound for the Far East.

Several years after the war the Family and Social Action movement was formed and Mary and I founded a branch at St Benedict’s, Hindley, a few miles away from Wigan. It was in the main an adult follow-on of the YCW.
Some years ago the late Fr John Deaney, former national chaplain of the YCW, prevailed on Mary “to write it up”. This she did, with many pages of information. It seemed the YCW HQ in London required it for their archives. Because of its length it was printed as a pamphlet, but not widely circulated.

After I retired from business at the age of 74, although still busy down at the church, we found ourselves in the Charismatic Renewal.

Now, after a short illness, sadly Mary has died. As one priest put it: “Mary has gone to a better place.” So simply expressed, yet so profound. Should I reach my 95th birthday later this year, Mary and I would have completed 69 years of marriage.

I will remember that day in September 1942 when a chorus of young girls sang the YCW song “Rouse up” as we hurriedly left the church. May her dear soul rest in peace.

  • Stephen C

    And like Mary “May those who’ve died on labour’s battlefield, rest in peace”

  • Mike Lyons

    And now Austin has gone to join Mary, may they both rest in peace.  Of course we will not forget their contribution to the community – nor the many hours spent posing whilst uncle Austin considered the vast number of ‘best’ positions for the next photo!