A new saint for the North West?
Posted: Mon, 25 Jan 2021 11:14
The Vatican recently announced that the Venerable Elizabeth Prout has been officially declared a 'woman of heroic virtue', as her cause towards official sanctity makes progress. She born in Shrewsbury in 1820, making her a contemporary of Don Bosco; like our Salesian saint, she had a profound and deep passion to ensure that poor children received a solid education. In reading her biography 'A job in jeopardy' by Sr Barbara CP, I became aware of the strength and vision of this woman, trying to bring about a profound change in female religious life in a male-dominated Church. Elizabeth had a vision to support those on the lowest rung of harsh Victorian life. Not for her the quiet contemplative life of an enclosed order of established sisters, she took up a preferential option for the poor long before the phrase was formed in the Church.
Her deliberate ministry in the slums of Manchester revealed a women with a strong sense of Christian vision. Like Nano Nagle in Ireland, she had to think outside the box as she gathered like-minded women to begin the congregation that would become the 'Sisters of the Cross and Passion'. She saw the need for her sisters to be very much 'in' the world and proclaim and live a Christian gospel that accepted people where they were, in their economic, social and educational poverty—she wanted to move them on. She and her sisters lived in the local community, sharing the lot of the poor, eating the same food and enduring the same conditions. In order to make ends meet, some of these early sisters actually worked in local mills or in service—they helped to provide a regular income for their convent, a hundred years before the 'worker priest' movement began in France.
Elizabeth's visionary work soon spread with Cross and Passion sisters running schools across the UK AND Ireland. In these lockdown times, they offer support and resources from their retreat centre in Drumalis—I recently joined them, via Zoom, for a wonderful exploration of the Jewish Faith of Jesus led by Amy Jill Levine. If you visit their website, you can discover what richness is on offer to support the Church in these pandemic times; please see http://www.drumalis.co.uk.
Elizabeth Prout's mission was to support the Church's mission to the poorest of the poor and we celebrate with the Sisters of the Cross and Passion in this official recognition of their founder. She faced many problems and was let down by those she trusted the most; however, her faith in God never wavered. Her love of the gospel and her love of those she worked with and for inspired her to take risks and to move forward.
Nano Nagle carried her lamp to see her way through the dark streets of Cork-it is a symbol to the Presentation Sisters of her vision. While Don Bosco brought the light of Christ to the disaffected teenagers of Turin, Mother Mary Joseph, Elizabeth's name in religious life, brought that same life to the children of Manchester. The Irish composer, Liam Lawton has written a song of praise for Elizabeth Prout that highlights her vision as one 'broken for the broken'. We are invited to listen to what God is asking of us as we are 'called each by name':
Who will dare to dream?
Believe ~ beyond all doubt
God had chosen you ~
O bless'd Elizabeth Prout
A woman for all time. ('Tell the world of God's great compassion)
To listen to this song and to find out more about the congregation founded by Elizabeth Prout, visit the 'More information' link below.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image of Ven Elizabeth Prout via Sisters of the Cross and Passion