ILLTUD EVANS, O.P.
1T HEN the Sisters of Charity arrived in Hack
ney in 1900, the East End of London was an obvious field for the work which had been theirs since their foundation in Dublin in 1815.
Mother Mary Aikenhead. the foundress of the Sisters of Charity, was a woman who combined holiness with the realistic understanding of what the virtue of Charity demands in practice: a readiness to meet every need which the works of mercy can supply.
And so her Sisters were at once to be found visiting the sick and the destitute in the slums of Dublin. Among their first tasks was the care of women prisoners awaiting execution.
Soon they had established schools for the poor, hospitals, and refuges for the homeless. They were explicitly vowed to the perpetual service of the poor, and their fidelity was shown in countless ways, not least in the frequent outbreaks of cholera and typhus in Dublin and Cork.
It was an irony—and perhaps a providential one — that Mother Aikenhead, the creator and sustamer of a work of Charity unique in its time, should herself become bedridden and should direct her work for many years crippled and in constant pain.
A T first the work of the Sisters at Hackney was confined to visiting the sick and the poor in their own homes. They had come to England through the efforts of Fr. Citallwey, a distin guished Jesuit who was familiar with their work in Ireland and who realised how much there was for them to do in the gaslit squalor of the East End at the :urn of the century.
He was instrumental through a generous benefactress in obtaining for them the nucleus of the present St. Joseph's. (They had originally settled in King Edward's Road, but the house soon proved too small).
The Sisters moved to 6 Cambridge Villas, one of a row of houses adjoining a single house in its own grounds, Cambridge Lodge, which, though ideal, seemed impossible to attain.
Within two years, through an anonymous gift, the Sisters came into possession of the Lodge and the property was handed over /o the Sisters for a " Hospice for the Dying I " Many repairs had to be done, but on January 15, 1905, the first two patients were admitted, and the next day Mass was offered in an empty ward fitted up as a chapel.
THE idea of a Hospice, in J. which those in the last stages of illness could be cared for, had long been in the minds both of the Sisters and their friends. This is so obviously a work of Charity in the truest sense which can only be sustained through a deep and abiding sense of vocation, that it has become a characteristic undertaking of the Sisters at Glasgow, Dublin and Cork. Among other countless activities, inspired by the same motive of compassion one may mention the leper clinic directed by the Sisters in Northern Rhodesia.
se: Here, perhaps, a word may be said about the name " Hospice 'S which sometimes puzzles those used only to hospitals, which nowa-days happily are places where patients can have a good hope of early recovery, thanks to new drugs and surgical skill.
In medieval times, a hospice was a place where pilgrims were welcomed on their way : they were places of rest and refreshment. And for those for whom medical care can do little more, the need of a hospice in that original sense is very real.
The last period of illness, to: whether it be brief or prolonged, can be a time of terrible anguish for the patient as well as for his family unless it is accepted.
It is a journey that can be cruelly hard if it is undertaken alone or with those who do not comprehend its meaning. But if it is a shared journe}. if. that is to say the sick person is given the comfort that faith alone can bring then all is changed.
DAYS OF PEACE
AND that is surely why St. Joseph's is, in the experience of all who know it well, one of the happiest places in London. What could be a spec tacle of agonising sadness is instead all joy.
And the reason is simply that the possibility of death is
accepted, not evaded through every sort of avoidance of this last and inescapable reality.
Everything is done to make the last days ones of peace : death can never be made easy, but it can be made holy. and that more than anything else is the secret of St Joseph's Thus it has happened that, from the beginning of the Sisters' work at Hackney, the unique quality of the vocation makes St. Joseph's what it has been recognised by men and women of every varieia of religious faith — and of none. Mgr. Ronald Knox once remarked that the greatest contribution of the Catholic Church to Victorian England was the hidden work of teligious Sisters bringing hope to the sick and rejected in the teeming slums of the new industrial towns and in the slums of London.
In the end, it is Charity alone that counts, and the identification of the lonely and bedridden, the prisoner and the abandoned, with the very person of Christ is a literal fulfilment of what the Gospels ask.
1ITITHIN even a few months of the opening of St. Joseph's, the house was too small. and the last 50 years have seen repeated extensions to provide for the endless demands
In 1922 three wards were added and a new laundry provided. Again, in 1925 the accommodation was extended, thus providing for 75 patients.
In 1932 a splendid chapel was added, thus giving its central place to the prayer which underlies all that is done at St. Joseph's and which indeed alone makes it possible.
During the War it served as a parish church after the bombing of the neighbouring church of St. John Baptist. And now-a-days it is none too large for the commenity, the patients able to get up and the day nurses and domestic staff. More recent additions have included an excellently equipped
Nurses' Home for the salaried staff who assist the Sisters in their work.
A ND now a new wing marks L-1 the latest chapter in the history of the Hospice. Admirably planned to provide small and cheerful wards, with every facility that contemporary architectural design can suggest, it presents a gleaming, cheerful face to Mare Street as though to express the spirit that is so characteristic of St. Joseph's.
The Hospice is now able to receive 156 patients under conditions equal to those of the most modern of hospitals. From the new wards one can see the buses pass and the people in the streets, and that is as it jt should be. The gravely ill can too easily be forgotten and these simple reminders of the world outside have their own value.
The Archbishop of Westminster opened a new wing on Wednesday in Saint Joseph's Hospice, Hackney. In this article, Fr. Illtud Evans, 0,P., Prior of Haverstock Hill, describes the work in this country of the Irish Sisters of Charity and shows that, despite the Welfare State, Catholic work of love for the Dying was never so necessary as today.
In this respect at least, television has been a blessing. And to the bedridden. the singing birds and tropical fish all add to that sense of life and light which can matter very much in the long hours of pain and loneliness.
St. Joseph's has always been fortunate in it benefactors. The appeal of its work scarcely needs to he emphasised. But in one sense St. Joseph's was never so necessary as now.
We live in an age that has seen an immense social revolution, and many of the graver features of poverty and illness are things of the past,
BUT The Welfare State is inevitably more concerned with the etizens of the future than with those who are old and helpless.
And, although medicine has seen dramatic advances, so that diseases counted incurable only a few years ago are now easily treated, there yet remain illnesses which medicine cannot finally reach.
The general hospitals are full to overflowing with acute cases, and every hospital almoner in London will speak with gratitude of the provision that St. Joseph's makes for patients who can no longer be kept in them.
For these patients some payment is made under the National Health Service, but it is of course only concerned to meet the cost during their stay.
For the capital expenditure of new buildings, for instance, the Sisters are responsible and in the
case of the new wing this amounts to £120,000. Of its nature, St. Joseph's is a voluntary hospital. It enjoys the friendliest relations with the Regional Hospital Boards and with local authorities, but its specific work sets it apart, and this fact is readily recognized and its meaning appreciated.
MOTHER Aikenhead, whose genius still speaks so authentically through her Order, would never allow any limitations on Charity. So it is that St. Joseph's has always `admitted patients without any consideration of colour, class or creed.
The only factor is the special need that St. Joseph's exists to supply. Patients come from many parts, though naturally principally from London and in that way countless relations and friends have come to know the Hospice.
Its visitors have included queens and ambassadors as well as a host of anonymous people who have come to know and love the place as a living monument of Charity.
A Crucifix in one of the wards is a reminder of the charitable interest of Queen Alexandra, who often visited the Hospice.
After her death, her daughter, Princess Victoria, gave the crucifix — which had hung over her mother's bed — to the Hospice.
The support of a host of friends. who over the years organized concerts, bazaars and even boxing tournaments on behalf of St. Joseph's, has been proof of the special affection it has for all who have come to know its work. One distinguished doctor indeed recommended a visit to St. Joseph's to a patient who suffered from chronic depression as the best possible cure !
THE Sisters have continued the social work which first brought them to the East End 50 years ago. By visiting the sick and aged in their homes and by organizing clubs for girls in Hackney and Hoxton, they anticipated much of the work that is now done by statutory social services and highly organized youth clubs.
But their work continues in full strength, and its need will not grow less, for here as in their work at St. Joseph's they bring to bear the inspiration of that Charity which transforms even ordinary good works and makes them a means of grace. In this way and through their teaching in local schools the Sisters are in intimate daily contact with people in their homes, and this has immense value for the work they do at St. Joseph's. Their approach to their patients is enriched by the knowledge they have of ordinary family life. It is increasingly realised that the Social Service should be concerned to strengthen the family, and the Sisters of Charity have always seen Their work within this essential context.
St. Joseph's stands, in a world different from that which saw its beginnings, as proof of the abiding worth of a Charity that makes no demands, sets no limits, other than those of meeting the needs of those who suffer and for whom death may be near. It makes its appeal to all who can discern the value of its work, and that must surely mean all men and women of good will.