Sister Mary Henry Yeaman O.P. Obituary
Sister Mary Henry (Winifred Jeanne Yeaman) was born on February 14th 1929, the only child of Charles and Eveline Yeaman. She was baptized in St John’s Church Kidsgrove on June 23rd 1936, no reason is recorded for her rather late baptism but it coincided with her beginning school, and she was confirmed by Archbishop Williams in Our Lady of the Angels in Stoke on May 25th 1941. Her father was the City of Stoke-on –Trent Electrical Engineer and quite a well-known figure locally. A street is named after him in Stoke, so Sister Mary Henry’s name will live on in her beloved Potteries. He died when she was eleven years old and her mother remarried though the only mention of her stepfather is that he was a cellist so obviously contributed to her love of music.
She began at her beloved St Dominic’s High School in Stoke in the prep department at the age of five, in 1934, and was there until 1947. After a short time of student teaching in Kenilworth she joined the Sisters of Mercy in September 1948. She records that once clothed she realised that she was in the
wrong Religious Order and needed to become a Dominican, saying that she missed the Divine Office and remembering all the Dominican saints’ days.
She entered the English Dominican Congregation on January 16th 1950 and received the habit on August 29th 1950 and made First Profession on September 1st 1951. Sister Mary Henry joined Maria Assumpta Teacher Training College in September 1952 and in 1954 became a qualified teacher. In her leaving testimonial, the Principal makes reference to the fact that she had no difficulties in order and in class control and in my experience that prevailed throughout her teaching career. Sister then spent a short time in Stroud teaching at the Rosary School there and after final profession on April 15th 1955 she began teaching at St Dominic’s High School in Hartshill where she remained until 1980. During that time and despite a full-time teaching post she completed a BA honours in Geography at London University as an external student as well as a BA in Latin and went on to complete an MA and an M Phil both as an external student. She valued her contact with the Geography Department at Keele University where she could continue her research.
She was a popular teacher in St Dominic’s and many of her ex-pupils corresponded and visited her. Her Christmas card list was enormous and she was kept busy answering the cards she received well into the next year.
Many of the cards we have received mention her inspirational teaching and an article in ‘The Tablet’ by Mary Colwell in October 2021 described her as ‘The Teacher Who Inspired Me'. Mary is a well-known author who was at school at St Dominic’s in Stoke, her article captured the essence of Sister Mary Henry mentioning her smile and the fact that she seemed to really care about her pupils as individuals. Mary also recalled her love of gardening which was a passion though for years the sisters at Stone never ate a decent apple as they weren’t allowed to pick them off the trees but had to wait until they dropped.
Sister Henry moved from St Dominic’s in 1980 when it closed and was extremely helpful to the local authority in smoothing the path to the comprehensive system as many parents were unhappy about the move. She joined the newly created St Thomas More School and after a very short time as a member of staff was asked to become Deputy Head. The Head regretted her departure very much when she was appointed Head of St Dominic’s Priory School in Stone in 1987. She had moved to the convent in Stone in 1983 and so commuted to Longton on her motorbike, becoming somewhat of a legend in the journeys. There is a lovely song composed by one of her colleagues on her departure from St Thomas More entitled ‘The Hells Angel Nun’ describing her as ‘screaming down the A34’.
She formally retired as Head of the Priory school in 1994 though continued to teach there until 2002. She was elected Prioress of Stone in 2001 and re-elected for a further term of office in 2004. Sister continued to teach Latin to individual students in the convent and continued to do so when she moved to St Mary’s Nursing Home in March 2022 and was very proud of Noah her latest student whom she prepared for GCSE Latin this year. She loved her teaching and the fact that she was able to continue for such a long time, though persuading her to get a DBS clearance was a challenge!
Her chronology doesn’t really describe what a truly great Dominican she was, with a love of the Order which encompassed her whole life. She expressed gratitude to our congregation and left her thanks on file to the many sisters she had encountered, from the age of five, both in community and in her mission. However, like her beloved St Dominic, she encountered many other people outside her convent and was an active member of the Geographical Association and Chair for many years of the North Staffordshire Vocations Promotion Group and received many accolades from both groups. She received an Ubi Caritas award from the Archbishop of Birmingham in recognition of all the work she had done in the diocese. Sister was actively involved in the local Newman Association and in Amnesty International.
She led pilgrimage groups to Bruges and followed in the steps of Margaret Hallahan who built this Church and Convent and took school groups on geography field trips to Savio House where she met her great friend Father Hugh Preston who visited her often and she would be delighted he was free to celebrate her requiem today. Her devotion to her patron Blessed Henry Suso was well known as well as her special Therese of Lisieux – Therese was her confirmation name.
The Congregation had a special Mass in 2021 when we celebrated several Diamond Jubilees that we had missed during Covid – but Sister Mary Henry was the star turn – having celebrated the 70th anniversary of her first profession as a Dominican sister and her 90th birthday during that time.
Sister’s mind remained very clear but she did not find her increasing physical frailty easy and I am very grateful to the community here in Stone and the staff of the Infirmary here and the staff recently in St Mary’s for their devoted care – which was sometimes challenging.
Her last admonition to me about a couple of weeks before she died – because she never quite forgot she was my teacher – was 'keep going' – and we all shall, but will miss her very much and hope she is keeping her promise that she would pray for all her sisters, friends and ex-pupils in Heaven.
May She Rest in Peace.