Virginia Barton

17 September 2013: Twenty-five years later


17 September 2013

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You may have stumbled across a little article I wrote back in 1991, “Lifestyles meet in a convent by the sea.” It was about the Solemn Profession of a young friend as a Benedictine nun.


Last weekend Sister Mary David, Mother Prioress as she now is, celebrated her Silver Jubilee at St. Cecilia’s Abbey, Isle of Wight. Just in case you have never been there, the Isle of Wight is a speck of an offshore island a stone’s throw from Portsmouth. You travel there by ferry, a journey of some 25 minutes as a foot passenger.

Mother Prioress’s parents and sister were there, and her father’s sister, a nun in Palestine. Also in the congregation was the daughter of one of her first cousins, only six days professed as a nun – “with a smile to move mountains” I’m told.

It’s difficult not to think of Mother Prioress as simple Michele, her name before she took the veil. Her family left Palestine to settle in America, where this very intelligent woman was born and educated. We knew her when she did her post-graduate degree in Oxford, and all loved her sweet nature and bubbling personality. (I loved her particularly because she’s as tiny as I am.)




A friend who was present at the Mass said it was beautifully sung in Latin by the community; music is a specialty at St Cecilia’s and indeed was one of the many reasons Michele wanted to join that community. Priests from neighbouring Quarr Abbey joined the Abbot of Farnborough, the local parish priest, and another from Oxford, to concelebrate.

There were many old friends with the family in the pews, praying for her and her intentions, and wishing her another twenty-five happy years. Later, after the singing of Sext there was a buffet lunch for the guests, and after Nones, festive recreation in the parlour. Songs, recitals and an Irish country dance were performed by the nuns, on both sides of the grille. And two lovely Arabic songs were sung by the newly-professed Sister Muna, cousin of Michele.


An occasion of great happiness and a wonderful reminder of that hidden life that we rarely remember to think about or pray for. Those good sisters have us in mind many times a day. It would be good if we thought of them too, and prayed for more to join their number.


P.S. Incidentally, St Cecilia’s has an excellent and most attractive website:







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