by Sister Susan Francois, CSJP
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace first came to Our Lady and St. Joseph's parish in Hanwell, London at the request of the pastor in 1901. Sisters Alacoque and Dympna, still a novice, were sent to staff the new school which began in converted rooms over the stable. The Salvation Army Hall was soon purchased and within a year, the school had expanded to educate over one hundred students. Sisters Alacoque and Dypmna were replaced by Sisters St. John, Agnes, Cecilia, Angela and Rosalie.
The school seemed to be thriving, until a new education bill meant that all local schools were taken over by the Middlesex Education Committee in 1903. The community applied for a grant to help with the upkeep of the school. Their request was denied. The sisters had incurred a number of expenses in getting their new school and convent up and running. They had no income and were unable to pay their bills. Mother Evangelista was concerned that she might have to withdraw the Sisters from Hanwell.
Meanwhile, the Sisters in Hanwell themselves took action which resolved the crisis. "It arose out of a jest. During the Christmas holidays the Community was in the greatest distress and were met to discuss what was to be done. Laughingly Sister St. John said: 'I see nothing left now but to write to the King. He is the only one to whom we can write without putting a stamp on the letter, and we have not the price of one left.' Sister Cecilia replied, 'It would be great fun. I wonder what would happen if we did so. Please let me write and see if he will answer it." (From Dusk to Dawn, p. 97-98)
A few days after Sister Cecilia mailed her letter to the King, His Majesty's private secretary visited the Sisters in person to inform them that King Edward VII had personally requested that the Board of Education look into their case.
On February 2, 1904, the Hanwell school was given Grant Aided Status and the Sisters received payment backdated to November. Today, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace still live in the Hanwell parish.
"So Christ is our model and in order to imitate Him we have to do strange things – things that seem almost inexplicable, but at the last days, when our work is taken off the loom of life, we shall see the beauty that comes into our soul by this work."
Mother Evangelista (Honoria Gaffney)