Beyond differences

I'm currently preparing a presentation about Mabel Digby (1835-1911), fifth Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart. She was the first of two British women in that role, the other being her successor, the better-known Janet Erskine Stuart (1857-1914), who died 98 years ago today. 

Despite being a generation apart, initially separated by hierarchical structures and with differences in temperament and outlook, the two women became good friends and their surviving correspondence shows a great degree of fondness and mutual respect. There was some common ground, in that both were upper class converts to Catholicism - though with very different stories - but they were able to find a much deeper commonality in their shared commitment to God and the Society. Mabel was very much Janet's mentor: she was the superior who accepted her into the Society, and guided and encouraged her. She saw the younger woman's gifts and potential, and propelled her into responsibility and a certain amount of "limelight" - though at times Janet found this difficult. Janet, more gifted, popular and widely read, was happy to follow and provide support, and to be Mabel's successor, first in England and later for the whole Society.

Mabel Digby
Janet Erskine Stuart

Last year I wrote about Mabel (here), describing her as someone with a difficult character and gruff exterior - the sort of person we often find it hard to love and appreciate. Janet, however, was able to see beyond that, to the well-hidden lovable woman within. She was clearly embodying the advice she herself had given someone else: -

We ourselves know the best and worst of ourselves, and others know the middle, the part that shows... It ought to increase our reverence for each other very much when we think that however much good we see in others the best is always hidden.

So today is a good day for celebrating our friendships, especially the unlikely ones that defy expectations and transcend potential barriers such as age, beliefs, background and temperament. We can rejoice in our differences and unlikeliness, aware that our friendships are stronger than all that, and that, whatever we see and know of our friends, however much good we see in them, the best is always greater, even if well hidden.