Sister Monica Neuhaus 1908-2007
Our beginnings in England 1931 - Memories of 50 years ago
Extract from a piece written by Sister Monica Neuhaus for the Golden Jubilee of Medical Mission Sisters in England, in 1981
Memories of Winchcombe - Sister Monica Neuhaus
…A “calling” I suppose will always remain something of a mystery…
One day I came across the “Question Box” in a Catholic magazine which I was about to lay aside. Curious as I was, I had a second look and read the question which must have been that of a young girl. She wanted to know if in the Church there existed a congregation dedicated to the care of the sick in mission countries. The answer stated that, five years ago, an Austrian physician, Dr Anna Dengel, had started such a group in Washington DC, in the US. What seemed to me then a happy coincidence was actually the Day of my Calling. I felt strongly convinced from that very moment that this was for me. I wanted more information, but no-one had ever heard of this group. They told me that there were many congregations in Germany and it would be wise for me to remain and enter one of those. But nothing could change my conviction that this was IT for me.
I wrote to Dr Dengel immediately and received a prompt answer, a warm invitation to come and to bring the documents enlisted. She was evidently traveling at the time, because every letter was posted from a different place - my mother became concerned, fearing White Slave Trade! Dr Dengel wrote again, this time to tell me that a friend had offered to lend us her summer house in England and that I should come there.
All this happened over about three weeks. I left my parents and seven brothers and sisters on October 9th 1931, to commence the venture that would be the wisest thing I ever did in my life. What a long day it was, that October day! By train, by boat, another train and late at night I arrived in London. Dr Dengel had told me she herself would be in Winchcombe and a “Lady in Black” would meet me in London. During the journey, while sea-sick and home-sick, I began to wonder if by any chance my dear mother’s fears might have been justified! Miss Willis, the “Lady in Black”, took me to her house by taxi. On entering the house, my eyes fell on a picture of the Sacred Heart with a candle burning in front of it. I have never seen a more welcome sight, because I knew then that the “Lady in Black” could be trusted. How very hospitable she was, then and ever after. After some sleep that night and a quick letter to my family to assure them of my safety, Miss Willis took me to the train to see me off to Winchcombe. I was on pins and needles not to miss the right stop, nor Dr Dengel awaiting me. I had a look out of the window as the train slowed down to be sure to get a glimpse of the one awaiting me. There would not have been any need to be concerned because Mother (Dr) Dengel was the only living soul on the station, the place was so tiny. A warm “Grüss Gott” from Mother made me feel at home with her right away – and that feeling never changed. A taxi took us to the lovely little cottage where the Medical Mission Sisters had come into being in England just one week prior to that date. Again things unusual imprinted themselves on my mind, never to leave it again. The very un-German bed was the most impressive, no big feather pillows, different foods etc, but all that was forgotten very soon.
Help was needed in the house. It was cold in Winchcombe. The first morning or two I heard someone light the fire in the open fire place of the room that served as our prayer-room, recreation-room, dining-room and work-room all in one. When I found it was Mother herself doing it, I decided to get up before her from then on to light it, although we had been told to rise only after the bell went. The next morning the fire was ablaze by the time Mother got there. Nothing was said and so I lit the fire from then on! Mother did not stay on very long; she had to go to other places. Sister Dorothy Finnigan came from India before Mother left; I remember she got malaria badly right away. Some weeks later Sister Ann arrived from the US to join the group. Postulants came and went. In any case we were kept very busy doing the laundry by hand, there was no washing machine, no hot water, English had to be learned. We had to help the parish priest of the little village church of St Nicholas, clean it, do the linens, etc. Father Palmer, the then parish priest, took an interest in us and sometimes came over to have a card game. Once a month he gave us a conference. He was a very learned man.
Mother Dengel returned once from the States during our time in Winchcombe. She went for walks with us, taught us English and often asked us to sing for her. Once we had a picnic in the woods and I remember Mother lighting the fire so we could boil the coffee water. She was lying on the ground blowing and blowing to get the fire roaring. Mother was young then and full of fun. In the meantime life had to go on, a house had to be found in London. Sister Dorothy went on several occasions in search, but no result. Miss Willis was used to spending the summer months in her cottage. She suggested that on a fixed date we would exchange dwellings, she would come to Winchcombe and we to her house in London. Ergo, on the appointed day the move took place…
Visit by Medical Mission Sisters to Winchcombe