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MY CALL, MY VOCATION: to give him my life “lock, stock and barrel”

Sr. Mary Valery Walker OP

At the time I was born my Father was the Catholic, my Mother was not.  A year or so later, after the birth of my first sister, Gillian, my Mother became a Catholic.  So I grew up in a practising Catholic family; a family that went regularly to Mass on Sundays, said night and morning prayers (not always together), went sometimes to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

When I started primary school, it was a convent junior day school, of the Daughters of Wisdom, a French foundation.  I loved them very much, especially Sr. Angela.  It was in their chapel that our family attended Mass each Sunday.

I remember too, that their convent (it was in Romsey, in Hampshire; we lived on a farm on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border) had a ‘miracle room’.  In that room, one of their sisters who was dying, was cured by Our Lady and St. Louis Marie de Montfort (founder of their Congregation) who appeared to her one evening while the other sisters were at prayer in the chapel.  When the sisters returned from chapel, they found the dying woman up and washing the floor!

After school dinner, in those simpler days, we children had to take turns in small groups, helping with the washing-up.  On one significant occasion (significant for the future) Sr.Angela was in charge and I was one of the group.  Sr. Angela began asking us what we wanted to be/do when we grew up.  As she went round the group, I can clearly remember thinking, “I know what will please her!”  So when she came to me and asked her question, I replied, “I’m going to be a nun!”  She was delighted ! 

Every afternoon, after their lunch, the sisters could be seen by us children, going for a walk round their grounds.  On the day after the washing-up episode, the group of sisters stopped outside the gate of the playground; a child was sent running to me on the far side of the playground to say, “Bonne Mere (Rev. Mother) wants to see you.”  I ran across; the sisters clustered round me and Bonne Mere asked, “Are you the little girl who is going to be a nun?”  “Yes”, I replied.

I remember after this, looking across from the school building to the chapel and thinking, ‘Perhaps I should visit there sometimes, now that I am going to be a nun.”  But I do not remember that I did !

After primary school (having failed the 11+) I went off to boarding school; this time run by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, founded by the American convert Mother Cornelia Connelly.  I loved them too; though perhaps a little more remotely!  Of course, such a school, with opportunity for daily Mass, frequent Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual conferences from the Head Mistress, fostered religious devotion in those ready for it; others, sadly, rebelled against what they felt was forced on them.  I certainly loved school, because I loved reading (it was there I read a novel by Louis de Wohl on the life of St. Thomas Aquinas) and I loved RE – and I intended to be a nun!

By this time, not because of Sr. Angela; by this time I had come to recognise that Our Lord was indeed calling me, inviting me, to give him my life “lock, stock and barrel”, so to speak.  Not that I always welcomed the idea; I was very lured by the attraction of a family of children, of marriage.

I think that for me, that school was a sort of pre-novitiate! Even though, in the end, I did not join those sisters.  When I was 18  I intended to join them, but my Father ‘put his foot down’: “You know nothing but nuns,” he said.  “You are too young; you need some life-experience.”  I was in truth rather relieved!  I went happily to college; a two year course at the Bath Academy of Art, for teaching art, followed by a year as Art Mistress in a Catholic Boys’ Prep. School.

I was tempted to do another year’s teaching, but on priestly advice I began looking at religious congregations, visiting them.  I visited St. Dominic’s, Stone and liking what I saw, went to visit the novitiate house at Stroud, in Gloucestershire.  I remember coming away from there singing in my heart, “I’m going to join the Order of St. Thomas Aquinas!” ,little guessing how much he would come to mean for me in the future.

So I applied, was accepted – and here I am today, having celebrated my Golden Jubilee of Profession in 2013.