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Sister Rosemary’s Diary

Updated: May 9, 2020

Sister Rosemary Howorth, CHN

The following article by Sister Rosemary Howorth, CHN, first appeared, with minor editing, in the Church Times in March, 2013. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

Smooth Succession

Resignations and replacements are in the air. Archbishop Rowan has resigned and has been replaced by Archbishop Justin, and – far less predictably – Pope Benedict has announced his resignation, and there will soon be a new Pope.

The small world of our own Community has recently seen a succession as well. The former Provincial Superior came to the end of her allotted term, and Sister Pauline Margaret was elected to succeed her. Careful readers of this paper may remember seeing a picture of the Installation, showing the Visitor (the Bishop of Worcester) with the new Provincial Superior and her three living predecessors.

Yes, three ‘exes’, still living as members of the Community. As we know, when Vicars retire they are expected to move away from the parish, so as not to cramp the style of the successor. Former Archbishops remain, often as members of the House of Lords; the extent to which they continue to comment on affairs of Church and state varies with individuals, as does the helpfulness of their contributions.

What continued participation we are to expect from a retired Pope is entirely unpredictable, since no-one seems sure what an ex-Pope’s status or powers should be.

Succession in Community

In the Community it is otherwise; the Constitution specifies of an ex-Superior, “She returns to her former name and place in the Community” – and so, after a short sabbatical, she does.

This is probably less of a shock to her than in any of the other situations I have mentioned, since the office of Provincial Superior does not confer many privileges; we no longer use the title “Mother”, the office does not bring any increase in income or more luxurious living conditions. It simply imposes greater responsibility.

Why, then, should anybody want this burden? Well, we do not ask her if she wants it; we simply tell her that, after prayer, we have decided that she is the person best fitted to carry it. After laying down the position, her predecessors are expected to undertake any office or task she assigns to them, and to support her with loyalty – as, in my experience, they do.

Being a member of a Community is a life, not a career, and we are not defined by the jobs we do. The faithfulness of frail elderly Sisters is as much part of our life-commitment as the work of those who are active. That is not to say that accepting diminishment is any easier for us than for others, but it is still a part of our common life.

That said, our three current ex-Superiors, though they have accumulated an impressive number of years in Profession, are very far from decrepit, and are set to be active participants in our life and mission for years to come.

A film to remember

Questions of leadership seem to be making themselves felt all around. I have recently seen one of the best films I can remember – Lincoln. By the time you read this we shall know whether Daniel Day-Lewis has added an Oscar to his BAFTA award as Best Actor.

The film shows a few weeks of Lincoln’s second term as President in which, as both an idealistic visionary and a shrewd political operator, he struggles to achieve his two goals: to secure the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, and to put an end to the Civil War, with its appalling toll of casualties.

At times, it seems that the two aims cannot both be achieved, and that he needs to choose between them. It quickly becomes apparent that moral persuasion will not be enough to secure the necessary votes, and that he must resort to some extremely shady backstairs deals to win support.

Nearer to home

Even as I was living intensely in nineteenth-century America, I was beset by an eerie sense of familiarity. Lincoln’s task was to secure two-thirds of the vote in a Lower House containing a minority determined to preserve the status quo. Some of his advisers suggested that the vote should be postponed until after the next election for the House, when his supporters might be more numerous; but he believed that the climate for reform might be less favourable in the future.

When persuasion had achieved all that it could, the last few crucial votes could be secured only by frank bribery, including the distribution of patronage. I felt reassured that there are at least some depths to which General Synod does not sink; but, as someone pertinently asked, what would we have to bribe anyone with?

I was left pondering the question: Was Lincoln right to resort to the measures he did? Do politicians always have to bend their principles to achieve aims in which they profoundly believe? Perhaps our new Archbishop will be able to help us with these questions.

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