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Last nun celebrates birthday of Order

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: November 03, 2008

Last nun celebrates birthday of Order
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THE last nun of a defunct Order which helped the poorest people in society has been at the heart of celebrations marking its 125th birthday.

Sister Elizabeth, now 92, has for the past year been the sole survivor of the Community of the Epiphany, which came to life on All Saints Day in 1883.

The well-loved nun, who has devoted 56 years to the Order, based in Truro, Cornwall, said her life of obedience was not always a bed of roses, but it was very special.

She shared a few surprising secrets in a homily written as part of the celebration.

"Many of you may not know that on the girdles we Sisters wear, there are three knots which represent our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but I have always said that the key vow is obedience," said Sister Elizabeth.

The Community of the Epiphany was founded under the guidance of the Rev George Wilkinson, then vicar of one of the most fashionable parts of London.

He formed a small group of women with the help of aristocratic-born Miss Julian Warrender, granddaughter of the 8th Earl of Lauderdale. When appointed as Bishop of Truro in 1883, he invited the women to live and work in his diocese.

Sister Julian was subsequently installed as Mother of the blossoming Community – instantly recognisable in blue habits, a colour chosen because black was felt to be associated with mourning.

The Order's home was a large house in Tregolls Road, Truro, which became the Convent of the Epiphany. After a century, it moved to Copeland Court in Kenwyn, Truro, which was renamed Epiphany House. The historic building is today the base for the Epiphany Trust, which seeks to continue the work of the Order with retreat and conference facilities.

Trustee Rosemary Simpson said that over the past few decades, fewer and fewer women had come forward to join the Community.

"The numbers did increase between the two world wars and after the Second World War.Many girls lost their fiancés in the war and to some it was a suitable place to go, sometimes if they did not have any other prospects.

"Sad as it sounds, a lot of girls may well have been religious, but also saw it as a way that they could be useful in life, but also be cared for by a community. A lot donated their engagement rings to Truro Cathedral, who have the most beautiful communion goblet which is made out of engagement rings.

"You can see the settings very clearly and it is very moving."

Many of the Sisters in the Community had left behind comfortable and privileged lives. Young women who would have had servants before they took their vows helped some of the poorest and most sick people in their new lives of devotion, .

The Sisters helped clergy in parishes, ran houses for "moral welfare" among young women, and took charge of boarding houses and convalescent homes for infirm and elderly people.

They even administered a distinguished department for church embroidery and altar breads which found their way all over the world.

Charles Butchart, who has written extensively on the history of the Order, said its reach stretched far beyond the diocese of Truro and one mission was set up in Japan.

"With only one sister remaining, it is officially described as defunct, but its spirit is still very much alive."

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    Ann Shea, Plymouth  |  March 05 2009, 6:54PM

    I am trying to trace my late fathers whearabouts in 1924.I know he was born in the workhouse in Truro & then went to live in some home until his father took him to live with him.I was wondering if sister Elizabeth could tell me of any records kept in those days & if so were they are.would love to write to her if possible Regards Ann shea

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    Sheila Ellis (nee Mott), Porthpean  |  November 12 2008, 10:08AM

    I was pleased to read that Sister Elizabeth is well and keeping up her work. Would love to visit her or write to her if she would permit it. Perhaps someone could ask her if this would be possible.

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