20 Dec Sr Mary of Christ
Sister Mary of Christ. December 9th 2012
Florence May Long was born in Croydon on May 20th 1914, into a devout Church of England family. She was preceded by an elder sister and brother, Marie and John, and she was soon nicknamed “Tiny”. It says sufficient about her character that her mother often had to remind the other two that, “Tiny can’t be teased”. Then and ever afterwards, Tiny took herself very seriously indeed! Her father had been called up to serve in the 1st World War, and when he returned home they settled in Brighton. Florence was educated at the Brighton and Hove Grammar School where she enjoyed her studies, especially Maths. She was also keen on sports and was at one time captain of the hockey team. On leaving school, she followed Marie’s example and took up nursing, training in a London Hospital. She loved this work and gave herself to it with great dedication. By the time war broke out again in 1939 she was holding a responsible post in a hospital in Manchester. This hospital was requisitioned for the care of wounded service men, and volunteers were sought from among the nursing staff to go overseas to work in field hospitals in the Middle East .
Florence volunteered and was duly sent to a hospital in Egypt at Tel el-Kabir. Here she made some life-long friends among the other nurses, including a little group of Irish Catholic girls. Through these friends she became acquainted with the R.C. Chaplain, Fr Dowd. One of the happier results of being in the Middle East was that it was easy to visit the Holy Land during leave periods, which she did several times with her new Catholic friends. They occasionally stayed at the convent of the Marie Reparatrice nuns in Jerusalem and she was very attracted by the peace of the religious atmosphere. Grace was working strongly in her and, two days before Christmas 1941, she was received into the Catholic Church by Fr Dowd in the Hospital Chapel, though not without feeling keenly the break with her Anglican past. Her deep love for Our Lord was nourished by the sights and sounds of the Holy Places she visited. She also went several times to the Carmel of the “Pater” in Jerusalem and seriously considered asking to enter the community there. She began to hesitate a little when they asked her whether she could pull teeth, but answered that she could do a course in dentistry. However, when they asked her if she could milk a cow she knew that she was not meant for this community at all and wisely postponed further discernment till she was back in England!
When she did return she went back to nursing in Manchester for a year or two, and became Ward Matron. She also got in touch with the Carmel in Salford, and became acquainted with Mother Etheldreda. However, she did not enter Carmel there, but in Notting Hill, London, as being nearer to her home. Her family, already unhappy about her conversion, were even more distressed at the idea of her vocation. They did not actively oppose it, but made it a very painful decision to carry out.
She entered in October 1947, on the Feast of Christ the King and was given the name, Sr. Mary of Christ. Her family were sufficiently reconciled to come to her Clothing the following May, and her sister, Marie, over the years, became a faithful and regular visitor to the parlour, without ever entirely understanding the Carmelite vocation. At one time, when the going was very hard, the new novice gazed at the Crucifix and said to the Lord: “If You could do all that for me, then I can do this for You.” So she was able to persevere, and made her First Profession on 8th May 1949
She gave herself generously and meticulously to the work of the house especially in the Linen Office and the Altarbread Accounts, but her greatest contribution came when she was asked to put her nursing skills to use and take care of a succession of sisters who needed full and long-term nursing, in some cases over several years. The last sister she nursed was the Novice Mistress who had helped her in her early days. By the time her patient died in 1990, Sr. Mary of Christ’s own long invalidhood had already begun. For as long as she was able she maintained a regular routine, always faithful to the Divine Office and continuing to help with small sewing tasks. Slowly however, she became more and more dependent and in the last five years, despite helplessness, memory loss and increasing confusion, she became increasingly contented and grateful, gracious and humorous, even though she was frequently “in a muddle” as to who we were and where she was.
In May this year she celebrated her 98th birthday and was happily looking forward to being 100 and receiving a telegram from the Queen. However, in August there was a sharp deterioration in her condition and a steady decline began. Until then, she had been brought to Mass and Vespers each day in her wheelchair, but now she remained in her room, able to hear Mass over a speaker and to receive Communion, although latterly only a drop of the Precious Blood, as she could no longer swallow. She grew weaker and slept most of the time, but in the final days she was awake and aware, serene and peaceful. Even when she could no longer communicate, there was no mistaking the happiness of her smile.
On December 8th she was able to respond to a visit from Sr Faith Cecelia as a newly clothed novice, but by the following day she was barely conscious. Her breathing was so light and even that those of us who were with her that night could not be sure when it ceased and she went very gently to God around 10.45pm on December 9th.
She had outlived all her relatives and friends so it was a small group, including some of her devoted carers, that accompanied her through the frosted garden to her resting place on Wednesday 12th. She was also the last of her generation in Carmel and she leaves a precious memory of one who, despite human limitations and the wounds life had inflicted, allowed the sanctifying work of God to be brought to completion in her, preparing her for fullness of life in Him. May she rest in peace.