Thursday, 22 November 2018

Singing a new song of hope in
the chapel at the Kairos Centre

Inside the chapel at the Kairos Centre in Roehampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During this week’s residential meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG United Society Partners in the Gospel), we have met in the Kairos Centre in Roehampton, and have worshipped in the chapel of Maryfield Convent each day.

At the end of a working day [21 November 2018], we joined together in the office of Evening Prayer, and before we began today’s work, the general secretary, the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor, presided at the Eucharist in the chapel, marking Saint Cecilia’s Day.

Referring to the celebration of Saint Cecilia as the patron of song and music, and continuing the theme in my reflection on the Book of Revelation yesterday, he asked us how we can sing a new song of hope (see Revelation 5).

The High Altar in the chapel at the Kairos Centre is the work of Gunnings of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Chapel at the Kairos Centre in Roehampton, which is almost 80 years old, was blessed and opened on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1939. Five novices and 13 Jesuit students assisted at the High Mass that day, and nine postulants of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, the order founded by Mother Magdalen Taylor in 1869, received their habit.

Much of the building work of this chapel was helped by the generosity of Miss Agnes Foley. The Altar was made by Rock of Dublin, Gunnings of Dublin supplied the sanctuary lamp and candlesticks, and a marble plaque depicting the Annunciation came from Italy.

The side altar was donated by a Mr Segrue, and Agnes Foley gave the organ and a statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child that stands in front of the main building.

The stained-glass windows above the High Altar in the Kairos Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The stained-glass windows behind the High Altar were the gift of a benefactor of Corston Convent.

The words underneath these stained-glass windows declare in Latin: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (see John 3: 16).

The Crucifix and alabaster panelling at the back of the altar and around the Sanctuary in the Kairos Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Crucifix and alabaster panelling at the back of the altar and around the Sanctuary was put in place in 1949-1950 as a ‘Thanksgiving Offering’ for the community living through the London bombing during World War II, especially on the night of the burning on 4 February 1944.

On 24 September 1959, the body of the order’s founder, Mother Magdalen Taylor (1832-1900), was moved from her grave in Mortlake Cemetery to a side chapel on the anniversary of the day 90 years earlier when she founded the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in 1869.

The window depicting Christ as the Sacred Heart in the chapel in the Kairos Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The wooden canopy over her tomb reflects her courage and fortitude. The stained-glass windows in this side chapel show her main devotions: the Sacred Heart Pleading (see Hebrews 7: 25), and the Annunciation (see Luke 1: 26). These windows were designed by Daniel and Deborah Burke and were blessed by Bishop John Crowley, former Bishop of Middlesborough on 24 September 2009. The Annunciation window is interesting for it shows the Virgin Mary after the Archangel Gabriel has left.

The window depicting the Annunciation in the chapel in the Kairos Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

After Vatican II, the High Altar in the chapel was moved to a new position in the Sanctuary to face the people. Every bit of the old altar was carefully taken apart and placed again in the new design which was approved by Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy of Southwark, and was carried out by Gunnings of Dublin in October 1968.

The organ in the chapel in the Kairos Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Our meetings each day have taken place in the Rose Room, once the study hall for the young sisters when the Kairos Centre was the novitiate for the order. The name of this room recalls Sister Rose Joseph, who was the tutor to the nuns and the author of a short biography of Mother Magdalen.

This room on the ground floor faces west and opens onto a York flagged stone terrace that was particularly attractive at sunset yesterday, and looking out onto a frosty morning this morning.

A depiction of the Annunciation in the Rose Room in the Kairos Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The vicar’s daughter who
founded an order of nuns
in Victorian London

An acrylic on linen by D Joanna Jamieson OSB in the Kairos Centre, Roehampton, depicting the life and work of Mother Magdalen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The Poor Servants of the Mother of God, who run the Kairos Centre where I am staying in Roehampton in west London, were founded in 1872 by Frances Taylor (Mother Magdalen). The values of this daughter of an Anglican priest and friend of Florence Nightingale continue to shape the values and mission of the religious order she founded almost a century and a half ago.

I am in London this week at a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and we are meeting in the Kairos Centre.

Frances Margaret Taylor was born on 20 January 1832 in Stoke Rochford, Lincolnshire. Her father, the Revd Henry Taylor (1777-1842), was an Anglican priest and Frances was the youngest of 10 children. Her happy country childhood came to an end in 1842 when her father died, and the family had to move to London.

The family lived in Saint John’s Wood, where the young Fanny Taylor and her older sisters were strongly influenced by the Oxford Movement. The poverty and the squalor of 19th century London came as a shock to her and her compassion moved her to work with the poor, and she became involved in many charitable activities, including the work of the Anglican Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Trinity in Devonport.

She went to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale’s Lady Volunteer Nurses in 1854. The plight of the wounded soldiers, the faith of the young Irish men and the dedication of the Irish Sisters of Mercy inspired her to become a Roman Catholic, and she was received into the Roman Catholic Church on 14 April 1855 by a Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Woollett (1818-1898), who had been a chaplain in the Crimean War.

On her return to London, she continued to work with the poor and began writing. Her desire to work with the poor led her to found her own order on 24 September 1869. She took the name Mother Magdalen and with three companions began the work of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. They responded to the needs of the time, working with the most vulnerable, especially women and children, and recognising and valuing the dignity and worth of each person.

A portrait of Mother Magdalen in the Library in the Kairos Centre in Roehampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Her book, Eastern Hospitals and English Nurses Рan expos̩, highlighted the neglect of soldiers and the injustice and indignities they suffered. In this book, she called for the reform of the character of paid nurses, whom she often found to be drunk, immoral and insubordinate, while sick and dying patients were left in their care.

She convinced the Jesuit Father Augustus Dignam (1833-1894) to change the Messenger of the Sacred Heart from being an expensive literary magazine into a popular penny-worth magazine that quickly circulated freely among the poor.

She also encouraged the New Ross-born Jesuit Father James Cullen (1841-1921) of Dublin, founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, to make the magazine available in Ireland. The first Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart appeared within a year, and reached a circulation of 73,000. The Messenger is still published in Ireland today.

Her community opened its first house in Roehampton in 1871. The Irish foundations during Mother Magdalen’s lifetime included Limerick, (1874), Carrigtwohill, Cork (1875), Monkstown, Cork (1881), Dublin (1888), and her last foundation at Loughlinstown, Co Dublin (1899).

Mother Magdalen died in Soho Square, London, on 9 June 1900. Her body was taken from Mortlake Cemetery on 24 September 1959, 90 years after she had founded her order in 1869, and she was reburied in a side chapel in the community chapel.

Today, the congregation or order she founded continues the work begun by Mother Magdalen in social, pastoral, health care, education and outreach work in Britain, Ireland, North America, Kenya and Italy.

During the past century, this work has changed and the sisters have responded to the new situations. But this work is still carried out in the same spirit and according to the same values espoused by Frances Taylor.

On 13 June 2014, Pope Francis issued a decree about Mother Magdalen, declaring her ‘Venerable’ and putting her on the path towards being declared a saint. The community she founded hopes to see her canonised and hopes this inspires other with her vision.

The grave of Mother Magdalen in a side chapel in the Community Chapel in Roehampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)