Virginia Barton

8 September 2017: Sister Mary David, R.I.P.


8 September 2017


We should probably refer to Sister Mary David as Mother Prioress of St Cecilia’s Abbey on the Isle of Wight. To us she was always Michele.

Under whatever guise I doubt she changed much over the years; a little more weight or a few grey hairs perhaps. We knew her in her youth when she was already nurturing a vocation — she spoke of it often — it was simply a question of where.

Michele was an American of Palestinian origin who came to Oxford to study for a doctorate. Tiny, joyous, clever, bubbly; that’s how we will think of her.


There are two memorable incidents concerning Michele and our family. The first was when she gave our youngest daughter her bicycle. Melanie had never had such a super bike! Exactly the right size for her eleven years, complete with lights and a huge wicker basket for her school books. Did it include hi-vis anklets? Very likely.

Melanie loved that bike and double locked it to our railings every night. Imagine her distress when one morning she found that a thief had completely dismantled it and left nothing but the front handlebars dangling on the railings. He/she had even unstrapped and taken the lovely wicker basket. Floods of tears of course. We bought her another but it just wasn’t the same.

The second occasion was when a posse came back to the house from a jolly on the river, and not one had a key to the door. Undaunted Michele whipped out her credit card (she had one or two in those days) and applied it to the sash window. In no time she was crawling through it and opening the front door to shrieks of amazement and laughter.

She was merry, generous and practical and we all loved her.


The last time I saw Michele was when as Sister Mary David she made her solemn monastic profession in 1991. All the characteristics were there, only more so. The serious intention, the infectious, inclusive smile that spoke so much, the radiant generosity of spirit that overflowed her small frame. Her bravery, intelligence and power of giving must have been hugely valued in the Abbey and her passing will be sorely felt.

Michele died on the Feast Day of St Augustine of Hippo, August 28th, aged 61.The Saint’s words from his Confessions seem to fit our dear friend perfectly:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

To learn more about St Cecilia’s Abbey, visit




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