1938

The new Exterior Sisterhood becomes the Third Order CSMV

A ‘cleavage of opinion’

On at least two occasions during the winter of 1937-1938 the new Exterior Novices met together in London with their newly appointed Superior, Sr Juste. By March 1938 the decision had been taken to re-name the nascent group as Tertiaries or Third Order Sisters, so as to avoid confusion with those living under the pre-1937 arrangement. The inspiration for this may have been taken from the recently established Anglican Franciscan Third Order, although it would lead to problems in the future (see entry for 1941). Significant alterations were also made to their Rule. Many months later Sr Juste reflected on what she called a ‘cleavage of opinion’ that had developed among them, explaining that ‘some [were] wanting to follow a more conventual life, some not’. We can only assume that those who did not were in the majority, for the Rule was revised with a more secular understanding of their vocation. This casts doubt on the implication of Mother Annie Louisa’s original proposal: that all seventeen women were pining for the cloister.

It was decided, largely for practical reasons, that they would not wear a habit. Instead they were given a medal and cord (replaced by a girdle at Profession), to be worn under their everyday clothes, and while staying in a Community House the Professed would wear a dark blue veil. Another significant departure was the decision to allow married women to join – with, of course, the consent of their husbands. There were also several minor amendments to the wording of the Rule, including a clarification of their ‘special Intention’, which became ‘to forward the Kingdom of Christ by prayer and witness’.

'In the world though not of it, she shall seek in complete surrender to reflect the spirit of Our Lady, her glad faithfulness, courage and humility'

Rule of the Third Order CSMV

There are two extant versions of the Third Order Rule and Constitution. The Rule is an amalgam of material taken from the CSMV Rule, including the sections on Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and the 1925 Rule for Exterior Sisters. It is thoroughly Salesian in spirit, with its emphasis on the interior and hidden virtues. Poverty is defined as non-attachment or stewardship; living within one’s income, and the avoidance of extravagance. Such parameters did not exclude women like the wealthy heiress Margery Hyde, who employed eight domestic servants at her country house in Berkshire.

The chapter on Prayer was more or less carried over from the 1925 Rule, although the one hour of daily prayer which it asked for is replaced by a “uniting” of the Tertiary with the Community – ‘at least by a momentary remembrance’ – at as many of the seven Hours of Prayer as possible. This was later amended to the recitation of two Day Hours, or Matins and Evensong. In addition to this they were to spend one and a half hours a week in spiritual reading or scriptural study, and to spend at least two hours a week in mental or contemplative prayer.

As in the CSMV Rule, there was a chapter on Fasting. The Tertiaries agreed to fast on Fridays and during all the Fasts of the Church, although in line with established practice they were discouraged from adopting extravagant bodily austerities. To refrain from ‘destructive and unkindly criticism’ of individuals, Church and world – a fast of the will – was fast enough, and there was no need to add to the ‘mortifications and crosses that God’s Providence brings…’.

Although it had been given a more secular interpretation, we can see that the intention of the Rule was to approximate it more closely to the Conventual life of the Community. In the words of Sr Juste, it was a ‘Rule of Life [and] not simply a Rule’. At a CSMV Chapter meeting held in September 1938 Sr Juste was asked what, if anything, was to be their intended contribution to the Community? The answer was prayer and almsgiving, although she went onto say that there was an unwritten expectation that they would – like the original Exterior Sisters – offer their practical service when possible.

Formation

As a dispersed group the formation of the Exterior Novices/Novice Tertiaries was largely carried about by correspondence, both one-to-one, as we have seen, and in the form of monthly reflections sent by Sr Juste to all novices on a particular aspect of their Rule. Their Constitution required that they meet together not less than once a year for Conference and Instruction, and that if possible this should coincide with a corporate Retreat. As individuals they were expected to make an annual Retreat of three days, as well as a single day both in Advent an Lent. Some of their testing also had to spent living in a CSMV house. As ‘uniformity of custom’ was regarded by Dean Butler as one of the chief means of maintaining the life and spirit of a Society, they were issued with a brief Customary which included, among other things, instructions on forms of address and general demeanour.

A room was set aside for them at St Katherine’s House in Wantage, available for use at any time. This included a small library, and several of the books have made their way to Mucknell Abbey.

The Tertiaries shall sit upright at the recitation of an Office; they shall hold the book on their crossed hands. They shall recite the Office on the note given..., audibly, in measure and observing the colon

Customary of the Third Order CSMV

Sr Juste
Sr Juste (left) [CSMV Archives]

Sr Juste

Sr Juste was born Margaret Juste Blencowe in Bury St Edmunds in 1894. Her father was a successful estate agent and auctioneer, and her mother belonged to the Greene King brewing family. She was educated at St Felix School in Southwold, where one of her contemporaries was the future Mother Maribel. A keen follower of the hunt in her younger days, she is remembered as an aristocratic figure with a ‘precious way of speaking’.

She joined Wantage in her early twenties and took Profession in 1913. Her Convent record reveals that she was frequently moved from branch house to branch house. This was no doubt a result of her indifferent health, for her varied duties – which included a fair amount of garden detail – were interspersed with three separate years out-of-action as an invalid. With the exception of two years as superior of the Retreat House in the early 1930s, she had no prior experience of formation prior to taking charge of the new Exterior Sisters/Tertiaries. From March 1938 this was combined with responsibility for the Community’s Junior Sisters.

Extract from the first letter of formation [CSMV Archives]

“I am proposing at the outset to make a few rather practical suggestions. I feel bolder to do this because with one or two exceptions I know none of you – later on as our relationship becomes more intimate and real, your demands on me will I hope indicate the sort of help that I may be able to give you. You notice that I use the word ‘suggestions’ because I don’t want you to feel that the following directions are laid upon you under obedience.

Now is it scandalous of me to begin with clothes? I do this because above all things I want you to consider your special vocation of ‘Exteriors’ as an immense opportunity for making religion attractive. The question of a ‘habit’ is a big one and has my closest sympathy, but I gather that for the majority of you, it will not be possible except when you are living in a Religious House…. The experience of my earlier days taught me that the simplest dresses are often the most expensive, but don’t let that daunt you! I shall never concede that money spent on good clothes is an extravagance. There is not the remotest reason for devout people to merit the derisive word ‘frumps’. Avoid anything that is untidy, unshapely, incongruous or depressing! Please forgive me for being so brutally direct”

Professions

By May 1938 one Novice had already withdrawn. By September the number of those intending to take their first promises was down to ten. In the end, of the original members, only seven went forward for Profession: Agnes Campbell, Sybil Charlesworth, Martha Cottle, Mary Bell Davey, Beatrice Lithiby, Angela Shearme and Barbara Smythe. For reasons that aren’t clear they were joined by one of the several Novice Tertiaries who had been admitted only that year: the missionary and former CSMV Novice Clarice Trentham (1897-1983). Likewise, two of original band – Mary Rolls and Mary Brodie – had their Professions delayed until February 1939.

Third Order CSMV badge
The badge of the Third Order CSMV [CSMV Archives]. Their motto was 'These all with one accord continued steadfast in prayer with the women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and the brethren'.

The Professions took place at Wantage on 10 October, the Sunday of the Community’s Dedication Festival. Once again it was presided over by the Sub-Warden, Fr Leonard Allen, who received their promises.

The world is greatly needing the witness of Christian living. In all the changes that have taken place - the loosening of manners and morals, especially of late years - we see the danger of crowd influence

Leonard Allen, Profession Address, 10 October 1938