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Miss Pauline Willis (1870 - 1957)




Miss Pauline Willis was an American, born in Boston, Massachusetts. Due to her brother's poor health and the severe Boston climate, the family moved to England when Pauline was 14, in 1884. They lived for a while on the Isle of Wight and later in Devon but also travelled extensively. In 1900 Hamilton, Miss Willis' brother, died. In 1903 Miss Willis and her mother embarked on a voyage around the world, to visit places Hamilton had been on a previous trip for his health. Sailing from Genoa, they reached Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and even Hawaii!


Since her 20's Miss Willis had had a great interest in foreign missions. She corresponded with missionaries and sent out supplies. She made frequent appeals in a magazine called "Illustrated Catholic Missions" quoting from letters that she had received. During a visit to Paris, she met Dr Agnes McLaren who invited her to join a new committee that would raise funds for a hospital in Rawalpindi - the London Committee. In 1909 the 16-bed St Catherine's hospital was opened.


The London Committee continued to raise funds and supported Anna through her medical studies in Cork. Dr McLaren asked Miss Willis to meet Anna as she came through Paris on her way to Cork to begin her studies in 1913. They both agreed to wear blue ribbons since this was their first meeting. Miss Willis remained an important friend and benefactor for the rest of her life.



In 1924, after a period working in Rawalpindi, Anna and Miss Willis sailed for America together, to "make the cause known". They travelled by tramp steamer with only eight passengers and they the only women on board. The steamer was small and they were both dreadfully seasick, but the steward onboard took very good care of them both.

Miss Willis & Anna Dengel

Miss Willis, Anna and fellow passengers sailing
for America together in 1924

Some years earlier, Miss Willis had played a key part in the founding of the "Catholic Women's League" in Boston and so had many friends and contacts. As a result of this, Boston became their first stop. Miss Willis arranged many speaking engagements for Anna. Anna later wrote, "Her introductions were priceless because without her precious cooperation and the valuable connections she made for me through her selfless generosity, I would never have been able to accomplish what I did and a good beginning would not have been possible. She helped me to move about in a new world. She had no inhibitions and went on tirelessly."


Miss Willis stayed with Anna in Boston for seven weeks, then returned to England. Anna continued to New York and the foundation of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries followed in 1925 - something neither women would have even dreamed of when parting in Boston!

Miss Pauline Willis

Miss Willis on her eightieth birthday 

In later years, Anna described Miss Willis as "...our first friend and benefactor. She became, so to say, our foster mother. When the Society came into being she was overjoyed and inspite of the slow progress in the early days she never wavered in her confidence in us."  Pauline Willis spent her last years in England. She died in 1957 and is buried in Winchcombe.

Anna Dengel and Miss Willis  
Winchecombe, 1952

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