Collected here below are a number of testimonies from the Guildford Cathedral event, from the master-mind behind it all (Mgr Barry Wymes) and the celebrant (Archbishop Michael Bowen), to a young person in the congregation (Sister Paula Thomas) and a teacher (Sister Mary Andrew) with her coach-load of young women.
Mgr Barry Wymes has been working as a priest in Surrey and Sussex over the years in many capacities, including as secretary to the then Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Michael Bowen. After seeing Mother Teresa speak in London when receiving the inaugural Templeton Prize in 1973, he decided to organise an event for the young people of the Diocese.
As I was driving home from London I kept on thinking to myself- how can I explain what happened? And then the phrase from the gospel came to mind: power came out from him. There’s a story in the Gospel of a woman with a haemorrhage who couldn’t get to speak to Jesus but just touched the hem of his garment – that’s the way scripture describes it. Power went out from him and she was cured, that’s the story. And that’s the phrase that kept coming back to me: power went out from her that night in the Guild Hall.
So my next thought was: wouldn’t it be good if I could get her to come to speak to the young people of the diocese Surrey and Sussex – Arundel and Brighton. And I though to myself if that could happen – these young people still in school in SJB, Salesians, or wherever it might be – that they would be able to look back in their lives, and whatever happened to them in their relationship with God or the Church, they would be able to say at least once we met a real Christian, for whom the gospel was real and vibrant.
So that was my thinking. I fixed on that idea. I spoke to Michael Bowen who was my Bishop at the time. I spoke to him in Sussex and he was enthusiastic. I then got on my bike, as it were, and went to meet her in the presbytery of Father Michael Hollings a well-known priest at the time in North London. I met her in his kitchen over lunch, which consisted of a glass of water and a bowl of rice, appropriately.
I spoke to her and said I’d come to ask her to speak to the young people of Surrey and Sussex and she joined her hands and nodded her head and and said father no. Thank you, but no. So I said why? And she said my vocation, my work is not to be giving talks or lectures but to be working with the sick and the dying and the poor and the poorest of the poor in Calcutta or wherever, and that’s God’s will for me. End of conversation.
I said to her, very daringly – not realising she’s going to be a canonised Saint one day – I said “Mother, that gives me a problem regarding the will of God”. She joined her hands and said, “you’ve got a problem with the will of God?” And I said yes. She said, “what is your problem Father?” So I said, “you’ve told me what the will of God is in this context, that you’re not to give lectures or talks, but the will of God for me is my Bishop, and my Bishop would like you to come!” So I said, “we’ve got a clash.” So she paused for a moment and bowed her head as if in prayer and she looked up and said – “I will come, it is the will of God for me too.”
Sister Paula Thomas was a student at St Margaret’s Convent School when she went along to Guildford Cathedral to see Mother Teresa’s address. Now she is the headmistress of St Catherine’s in Twickenham.
I was a teenager who looked at her from a distance in the Cathedral and was very impressed by her. I think we did, yes, we talked about her all the way back. She was such a little wizened lady, and yet she had such power all over the world.
Sister Mary Andrew teaches at The Towers Convent School in Sussex and took a coach-load of pupils to the Guildford Cathedral event.
I must have taken about 11 girls because I drove the mini-bus and I think we only had a 12 seater in those days, so I could only have taken about 11 children, 11 young girls, it was our year 11; 5th form as it was then.
I know the Cathedral was absolutely packed with young people, it was at bursting point. And she simply sat there, in the sanctuary, or the chancel as they called it, and related her story really. Many of us knew her story already – she was a maths teacher, I believe, in India. She was a Loreto nun. And she’d gone, as far as I remember, to a conference in Calcutta, and had seen the absolute destitution of some people in Calcutta.
She said that on her way home she heard someone calling for help. And that was the beginning really. Now, I won’t put my hand in the fire over this, because it was too long ago, but I think it was I who said, when the question time came round – what do you think would have happened if you hadn’t gone back and helped that person? And she said – I don’t think I would be where I am now, that was the beginning of it. So it was that particular moment on her way back from a conference in Calcutta when someone called out for help, and it was a question of – shall I pretend I didn’t hear or should I go back and help? And she went back and helped and from that moment her life was changed.
She obviously went back to her convent, and then obviously this was haunting her and she couldn’t leave it alone, and she had to go back and do something to help the people of Calcutta, and the people of India really, and then the people of all over the world.
Archbishop Michael Bowen was the presiding Catholic Bishop at the time and led the service with the Anglican Bishop David Brown.
It was just very interesting for all these youngsters to listen to this tiny woman talking about her work in the slums of Calcutta. Picking up the people off the dustbins and things who were dying and trying to make their death as happy as possible. Youngsters nowadays go off to third world countries and they go and visit all these places. But those days it wasn’t done so much.