Necrology Sister Mary Cecily Boulding
Cecilia Boulding (Sister Mary Cecily) was born on July 7 th 1933 to Reginald and
Josephine Boulding, she was the fifth child of six and one of her brothers, Peter
became a secular priest and her youngest sister joined the Benedictines
becoming the renowned Dame Maria Boulding of Stanbrook Abbey.
Cecily’s father was a pioneer in the development of Radar for defence
purposes and received the OBE for this at the end of World War One and was
again involved in its development in World War Two.
Cecily was baptised when she was two days old and received her education at
the Ursuline Convent School in Wimbledon where the family lived.
Her mother died when Cecily was twelve years old and her father subsequently
remarried and so Cecily became part of an extended family and we are
delighted that some members of the family could be with us today.
Cecily went on to Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford for her first degree in history in
1954 and completed her Masters in 1957. Her time in Oxford wasn’t all work
as she had an Oxford blue in rowing and retained a lifelong interest in the boat
race. Like most Oxbridge graduates she was fiercely proud of her Oxford
connection and when one of her nephews won a scholarship to Cambridge
aged 17 she wrote to his mother that it was a pity it was ‘to the Poly across the
Cecily joined the English Dominican Congregation of St Catherine of Siena in
1959 and was clothed in 1960 and finally professed in 1964. She entered with
Sister Mary Quentin and they remained great friends throughout their lives.
We were all very amused to learn that Cecily took for her motto ‘I come to set
fire on the earth’, for she was never lukewarm in anything!
Cecily taught in Stroud and Stoke from 1961 to 1971 but didn’t really enjoy
teaching children and preparing them for examinations. She typified the
educators that Pope Francis mentions in his prayer intention for this month.
‘We pray that educators may be credible witnesses, teaching fraternity rather
than competition’. Despite her dislike we have received many compliments
from her ex – students – one remarking that she was so grateful that Cecily
taught her how to think.
Her interest in theology led to a First Class Westminster Diploma in Sacred
Studies in 1965 and then a First Class BD in theology at the University of
London in 1974. First class degrees were not so common then as they are now
and her reputation was obviously growing as she was then offered lecture
posts in many seminaries both in England and abroad. It was decided that she
would accept the post at Ushaw Seminary in the North of England where she
would spend over twenty very happy and fulfilling years. She noted that she
much preferred teaching adults and found it very congenial.
Cecily became increasingly well- known and probably the most notable
Dominican woman of her generation. I don’t believe from stories I have heard
that she gave her students an easy ride but she was held in great affection and
wherever any of us went in recent years we were always asked if we belonged
to the same congregation as Cecily. She often told amusing stories against
herself and related one day that she had left a note on her door saying she was
in the garden and when she returned one enterprising student had added ‘so
was the serpent’.
She completed her PhD in 1982 on Reformation Ecclesiology which led to her
involvement in Ecumenism and she became a member of the Anglican –
Roman Catholic International Commission in 1983 until 1991. This involved
much international travel which she enjoyed and she found the membership
stimulating. Cecily was also a member of the Bishops Conference of England
and Wales Theology Committee from 1974 until 2004 and represented the
Catholic Bishops Conference in formal conversations between Anglicans and
Methodists from 1998 until 2001. There is a quote in her file in which she says
‘All this ecumenical involvement eminently demonstrated – to me at least- the
correct and very necessary attitude of utilising, to the fullest extent- our
capacity for study, discussion and rational thought in our approach to God and
spiritual and devotional life – the characteristic which had led me to the
Dominicans in the first place’. It is fitting that Cecily’s requiem is taking place in
the week for Christian Unity.
As well as her commitments in Ushaw Cecily also gave lectures in the summer
at Providence College in Rhode Island in the States. Cecily also lectured in
Durham University and in Sunderland Polytechnic and in various deaneries and
parishes in the North as well as in other seminaries. She gave sermons.
lectures and retreats in almost every diocese. Her many activities and
publications are too numerous to mention in detail here as we would be in
Church all day – but they will be detailed in her file – just in case anyone wants
to investigate her fascinating life. It is incredible that she did so much extra
whilst having a full time lecturing commitment at Ushaw.
Cecily retired from Ushaw in 1996 and the President expressed his thanks to
the congregation and to Cecily herself for all she had contributed to the
training of future priests. He said ‘There is little doubt that she is enshrined in
the memory of many priests throughout the north of England and from further
afield who learned their theology from her’. He goes on to say that Ushaw
basked in her glory and that the Church at large was indebted to her for her
Her congregation too basked in her glory and we were and remain very proud
Cecily’s publications were numerous and again will be listed for future
reference and her last great work was the translation of Congar’s diaries of the
Second Vatican Council from the original French and was published in 2012
together with Sister John Ronayne, an enclosed Dominican sister. Sister John
has written from Lisbon of their close friendship and mutual encouragement.
After retirement from Ushaw she continued to lecture, give retreats, served on
numerous committees always furthering the cause of education and study.
In the congregation she organised the archives, encouraged on-going
formation and even tried living in a small community in Leicester. She gave
lectures to our own novices and particularly enjoyed giving a retreat at Mount
St Bernard where she was allowed to join the community, she felt equality had
Herbert McCabe one of our great Dominicans described Dominicans as a
community that specialises in talk and goes onto say that our talk is not just
chat, it is a communication of ourselves at a deeper level than that. Cecily
typified this, she did not engage in small talk and could be brusque but she
could also be very kind and never made anyone feel inadequate if they asked
her a theological question and explained dogmas and their history with great
clarity and patience.
Her last few years were not easy, at the beginning, the focus of her day was
Mass to the exclusion of all else. The congregation will always be grateful to
Sister Julie and the community here in Stone who together with the staff in the
Infirmary did all they could to keep Cecily at home when sometimes it was very
Eventually she needed more specialised care and again we, her congregation
family were so grateful to the National Health Service who did everything
possible to ensure that her symptoms had no treatable cause. Devoted care
was then given in Silverdale Nursing Home and lately Langley House where
Cecily was treated with love and the utmost dignity. The staff involved will
always remain in our prayers. She also received the Sacrament of the Sick and
again we are very grateful to the clergy in Holy Trinity Newcastle for their
Sister Julie and I will retain lovely memories of our last visit the day before
Cecily died when we were treated to her lovely smile and she seemed at
May this great lady now be at peace with her God who she served so well but I
would imagine the theological discussions might well be continuing especially
with Our Lady as Cecily found the dogmas of Our Lady fascinating.
May this great Dominican rest in Peace and we will never forget her.
Sister Mary Teresa,o.p