03 March 2011

Another Archive Article!

Catharine Clare Agnes Lancaster was born into a wealthy English family ca1785, and she had six brothers and one sister; she was the youngest daughter and the third child. She was considered thoughtful and unworldly. Her sister often reproached her, calling her foolish and even stupid, and due to her natural meekness she generally received this in silence. If she did answer it would only be to say "I cannot help it."

That older sister desired to marry an equally wealthy man, but her parents refused because he was Protestant, although otherwise he would have been a fine match. Independently, and in opposition to them, she "bound herself to this man for life," a monastery euphemism for a Protestant marriage not recognized by Catholics. She continued to practice her Catholic faith until her death just a little over a year later in 1808. This tragedy inspired the younger, surviving sister to wish to "bid adieu to this deceiving world" by entering our monastery, although her grieving parents asked her to remain at home. They were worried because she was used to a certain level of domestic comfort, and religious life demanded certain austerities, so she stayed at home.

About three years later her mother died, and she remained with her afflicted father who suffered from what was known as apoplexy, probably some sort of stroke. For three years she "shared in both his confinement and in his sufferings." Although she continued to long for consecrated life, she was not free of family obligations for the next eight years, even after he died in 1810. When not busy with her father she performed acts of charity including visiting the sick, ornamenting churches, reading spiritual books (especially the lives of the saints to whom she was so devoted), and various other "pious exercises." After her father's death she had control of her own time, and she liberally shared her inheritance with the sick and needy, traveling with her servant to bring whatever was needed. She was also known for excellent taste and for sewing skills, and so was able to richly serve her church, where she was a voluntary sacristan.

She still aspired to religious life, and came to this monastery on June 1, 1818. She was so weak at that time that she spent a great portion of her probation in the infirmary, and it was not until her reception to the habit on July 2 (then the great festival of our order, although the date has been changed to May 31 on the new Roman calendar) that she began to recover her health and spirits. She began her novitiate joyfully, and even though her novice mistress was several years younger than she was, she was strictly submissive, never resisting obedience and sharing her interior thoughts with candor and simplicity as is recommended by our holy rules. She was honest without reservation about her many temptations and trials, and at the same time she expressed her gratitude to God for having called her to a religious life.

"She was a person of few words, and never related anything that would cause disunion or trouble. Her actions clearly proved that she considered her sisters as her superiors, for no sooner was she requested to do this or that, than she complied without any will or apparent thought but that of obedience." During her novitiate she was made assistant to the sacristan, and she held this office for most of the last two years of her life. She also helped care for boarding students, and even as her health faltered she continued this work until ten days before her death. When it was clear she had to leave the school, she agreed with her usual sweetness and a smile, but everyone knew she might not return.

On the tenth day of her confinement her pain became so excruciating that she was given a painkiller. This deranged her in a manner from which she did not recover, and it prevented her from receiving the Viaticum, though she had received holy communion four days before the festival of the Assumption of Our Lady. She always had a particular devotion to the holy Virgin Mother of God and St. Joseph, and she always placed herself under their singular protection; when she had been in the world she said daily the Little Office of the Blessed Mother. Due to her delirium it was only possible to administer the holy extreme unction. A few hours later she quietly passed "from the rank of choir sister to the peace of the children of God." This was August 19, 1820, and she was 35 years old, having been professed for 13 months and 17 days.

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