Sister Cecily – a champion of youth

(26 May, 2016)

A woman brought up on the mean streets of Glasgow, who dedicated her life to caring for young people in Bermondsey

9649Sister Cecily, front and centre

The sudden death of Sister Cecily will have shocked the thousands of local people whose lives this unorthodox and passionate nun touched.

Her colleagues at the Bosco centre and sisters at the Bermondsey convent she lived at for the past 30 years told the News just hours after her death, that she would have hated to have been described as a saint.

This was a woman brought up on the mean streets of Glasgow, who dedicated her life to caring for, inspiring and improving the lot of young people here and in other parts of the country.

She is part of an order of nuns that follow the teaching of 19th century priest John Bosco, who is popularly known as Don Bosco and was made a saint in 1934.

Working with the street children of Turin at a time of mass industrialisation and urbanisation he developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment, a method that became known as the Salesian Preventive System.

It is the Salesian order that attracted a young Cecily to a life of vocation, which allowed her to bring her own unique bullish take on how to help those who had fallen out of the education system.

The Bosco centre in the grounds of the convent on Jamaica Road is well known in the area. Sister Cecily introduced it as a youth centre then added a nursery for young mums to leave their kids so they could train or go to work; and trained others there to work in child care. She ran a college from the centre and was known by businesses large and small for calling on them to take young people in on work experience, placements and into employment. Every local business called up by the dogged nun knew that her unwavering commitment to getting her young people on the right track meant that she would be pulling out all the stops to ensure that young person did not waste whatever opportunity she managed to get for them.

At times when the Catholic Church has been seriously out of favour, this was a woman who showed what a life of dedication and devotion was all about in the modern age. She was quick to ditch her habit when the church relaxed the dress code for nuns. A simple crucifix around her neck with little to no religious preaching, Sister Cecily saved her sermons to getting young people and businesses on the same page, showing that hard work was all that was needed to achieve in an area bristling with opportunity.

In the last few years of what was really a rather short life, Sister Cecily responded to the shortage of skilled construction workers in an area where buildings are springing up daily, by opening her own construction college.

This indomitable woman might not want to be called a saint and not everyone she helped would believe in sainthood, but she showed that you can follow a path in life in your own way and achieve whatever you want.

She followed the path of a 19th century priest in a style unlike any nun most people meet, but delivered his teachings to the letter.

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