Far from the maddening noise of the city of London, yet near enough for the purpose of the great charity, in a garden of peace at East Finchley, stands the largest of the English Convents of the Good Shepherd of Our Lady of
Object and Work of the Order
Homes are kept continually open for the reception of the weakest of Christ's flock - women who, generally through ignorance or poverty, have gone astray.
Of these no one is refused admittance so long as room can be found, and, naturally, nothing saddens the sisters more than to be compelled to reject an applicant owing to lack of accommodation. No entrance fee is demanded, no letter of recommendation is required, no questions are asked; it is enough that the poor girl knocking at the door requires a safe shelter from the temptations of the world.
Difference of religion is no bar to admittance; and, although the majority who apply are Catholics, at least in name, there are many of other sects and many of no religion at all.
The founder of the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was the venerable servant of God, Father John Eudes, one of the most distinguished ecclesiastics in France during the seventeenth century. He was a native of Normandy, and was born in 1601.
After a boyhood of singular virtue, John Eudes chose the ecclesiastical career. He joined the oratory of Cardinal Berulle, generally known as the French Oratory, and was ordained a priest in Paris in 1625.
The cause of Father Eudes founding this institution is interesting. In 1639 he happened to be preaching a mission in the city of Caen, and the fervour of his discourse was such that it converted a number of women. The problem then arose how was their perseverance in repentance to be best assured. Father Eudes bethought himself, and then exerted himself to secure temporary homes for some of them in the houses of several charitable ladies, and others he entrusted to the care of an old woman named Magdalen Lamy, who, although poor, was full of zeal. She it was who suggested having the permanent homes that afterwards developed into those of the Good Shepherd. After some delay Father Eudes was able, by the help of friends, to hire a small house in the street of St. John, opposite the Chapel of St. Gratian, at Caen. This was the cradle of the future institute. The first penitents were received within its walls on November 25, 1641, and since that time the work has steadily continued.
Now, as the good work increased, it was considered desirable that it should pass from secular management to that of religious. Mother Frances Patin, the Superior of the Convent of the Visitation, took charge of the Refuge. Father Eudes gave the inmates of his new convent the Rule of St. Augustine, to which he afterwards added constitutions necessary to guide them in the peculiar work they had undertaken. He also desired to substitute for the simple name of the Refuge the title of Our Lady of Charity, and to the three ordinary vows taken by all religious orders - poverty, chastity, and obedience - he added a fourth, by which the religious bound, themselves to work for the penitent girls for whose reformation they were founded.
After twenty years of successful work the Pope gave his approval to the order, and allowed the religious to take perpetual vows. This approval was accomplished on January 2, 1666, by a Bull of Alexander VII., which created the new order and gave the nuns the Rule of St. Augustine with the constitution framed by Father Eudes. The order spread rapidly, and on May 3, 1841, its first establishment was opened in England. An unfurnished house was hired for the purpose by two of the French sisters in Hammersmith, and they maintained it in great poverty. There are now two convents in London, one at Hammersmith and the other at East Finchley. The latter being the noviciate house.
On entering this convent, at once one is struck by the beauty of the flowers in the garden. They give the place a most cheerful aspect. And the great object which the nuns have in view is to brighten as far as possible the lives of the poor creatures who take refuge within their walls. There are over 200 penitents, varying in age from seventeen to seventy, some of whom have been in the convent refuge at East Finchley for over thirty years. That the penitents are happy may be gathered from the fact that some frequently stay for their lives; some of the younger penitents, after a few years in the refuge, are desirous and able to start life respectably; some of the older penitents decide to spend the remainder of their lives in the convent, but they can never be received as religious in the order.
Once penitents take refuge in the convent no allusion is ever made to their past lives, nor are they allowed to speak of them to the nuns or to each other. Also, whilst living in the house, they never leave the grounds. The chief support of the institution is the laundry work, which the penitents are taught; also needlework of all kinds, including the making of dainty lingerie, lace, and embroidery. Some of the nuns are always with the penitents to superintend and direct the work, to preside over the recreation, to guide, instruct, and console them; but the daily life of the community is distinct from those under its care.
The convent inhabited by the nuns is entirely separated from the house in which the penitents live and work. The two buildings are joined by a cloister, but the door in this cloister is always locked, and the penitents never enter the convent. Their refectory, workroom, and garden are completely separated from those of the nuns. Other Departments
Within the same walls, but completely separated, there is at East Finchley a home for friendless young girls. They are taken in at fourteen years of age, and kept by the nuns free of all charge until they are fit for service. Then situations are found for them. At present there are 150 of these girls training for service.