The Society of St Margaret
The Priory of Our Lady, Walsingham
Sermon preached by Fr Paul Messenger at the Funeral of Sr Alma Mary SSM
“Your life is hid with Christ in God”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We first knew Sister Alma Mary when she was a housemistress at the Kingsley St. Michael School at East Grinstead. I say “we” because Barbara my wife was pleased to escape from the care of our four very young children to help some evenings in Sister’s boarding house. Sister ran a very good house: it was well ordered and there was always plenty for the girls to do. She didn’t give them the chance to be bored.
I reckon that she lived up to our founder, John Mason Neal’s expectation of his sisters. He wanted his Sisters to be happy and joyful. In one of his sermons to them he said: ”God forbid that you should ever put on a sort of behaviour or appearance that you think Sisters ought to have. It is the most dear thing to me, when I can hear, as I did the other day, of a Sister that: “she was the life of the children’s party”. Yes. Sister Alma was cheerful and purposeful and her House was a reflection of that outlook. Sister Alma genuinely cared for their well-being and even after they had left school she kept in touch with many. She was a true Religious keeping them in her prayers not only whilst they were in her care but long afterwards. This is part of her life, an important part, “hid with Christ in God”.
I am sure that Sister’s life was always a busy one. “Become a nun and see the world” - in the case of Sr.Alma she certainly travelled around. For ten years she was the Sister-in-Charge of the Community’s Branch House in the Belgrave area of Leicester. I am told that she was much sort after as a retreat conductor and valued for her spiritual guidance.
Sister loved Walsingham ministering to the many pilgrims and seems particularly to have valued the liturgy of sprinkling at the Holy Well. So again she was kept busy not only in the Shrine but also as Bursar here in the Priory.
She never though forgot her roots in Trinidad. On one of our visits to her in these latter years when she was in a nursing home she asked Barbara whether we had come from Port Elizabeth. We had to admit that we had only travelled from Bexhill. She then recounted how as a child on her way to school she loved to pick a mango telling us that the best bit was sucking the stone!
It was here at the Priory that Sister told us that she was heading for the Land of Zog.
Dementia is a devastatingly cruel disease which she faced so bravely. There were days when she was more lucid than others. Yet there were days when she didn’t really know herself. As St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: ”Your life is hid with Christ in God”. Just as Jesus Himself knew dereliction in the Garden of Gethsemane so too Sister Alma. Yet even in these final months there were days when she was able to wear again her Sister’s habit and her office book was always to hand. Those who nursed her at Dorrington House respected her vocation and showed her much love and care. Her Sisters here at Walsingham were faithful and regular in their visits to her.
We shall miss her. Sister Alma was god-mother to our youngest child. She often asked after him and in recent years kept saying: “Is he married yet?” We had to admit that such had not yet happened. She enjoyed meeting up with him on one of her visits to us at Bexhill.
Not only will Barbara and myself miss her but so will the many who have known her loving friendship. “Living is for loving” is a good saying but as Christians we can add that “Loving is eternal”. As we were reminded in our first reading: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God…they are at peace.” We should not be downhearted for as St. John wrote: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life”. So today we commend to the Lord our dear sister departed that she may rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.