Saturday, 21 May 2011
In memory of Mabel
Mabel was undoubtedly an extraordinarily capable and God-centred woman. However, she was preceded by four equally or more extraordinary women, who were also transparently loving, kind and gentle, whereas Mabel's deep kindness and consideration were hidden beneath thick layers of British reserve and an austere manner. Her successor, Janet Stuart, was far more charismatic, as well as far more gifted and broad-minded. In contrast, Mabel's biography is filled with words like dogged, tenacious, determined, faithful, brave, hard-working, heroic and efficient - austere words to describe an austere woman.
She also had the misfortune of being superior general at a time when the anti-clerical French government expelled all religious congregations - which meant several hundred French RSCJ were controversially expelled from the Society's birthplace. There were other crises too, and battles, just as there had been when she was reponsible for RSCJ in England and Ireland. She clashed several times with Cardinal Manning, who was a worthy opponent; if the two had ever got on, they would have made a formidable team!
Mabel was the product of a narrow-minded, stiff-upper lipped Victorian upbringing. A childhood accident left her suffering painful headaches; instead of extra hugs, her mother told her not to complain but to bear them with even greater cheerfulness. So as an adult she grinned and bore various illnesses and injuries, insomnia, respiratory and digestive problems, a heart attack and more. As far as possible she refused to allow her ailments to get in the way of her many responsibilities; however, they must surely have affected her judgement, performance and levels of patience. She was consistently hard on herself, expecting the highest standards - and equally hard on others.
I've illustrated this post with a photo of a rock, worn and hollowed out after years of being buffeted by waves. It's probably how Mabel felt, especially in her final years, as she became sicker and just keeping going on became harder. So I was especially moved to read that the final word anyone heard her say, a day or two before her death was... Alleluia...