Sister Brenda has spent her life between England and Africa. She used to practise nursing, and today she continues doing it, she is in charge of the nursing of the community of Addlestone, UK.
Could you tell us a little bit about your life?
I was born in 1949 in a small village called Crosby, which is situated on the north side of the city of Liverpool in the North West of England. It is an ancient dwelling place which had Viking roots and was known as Krossaby in Old Norse, meaning ’village with a cross’. The settlement was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Crosebi and by the year 1212 had become Crosseby. It is on the Mersey estuary and part of the great seaport of Liverpool; many great ships have visited the Port. Crosby is blessed with wonderful sea views and is surrounded by beautiful countryside.
What made Crosby special?
Crosby has also been home to a few distinguished people (including myself): Titanic captain Edward Smith, sociologist & broadcaster Laurie Taylor, academic writer Thomas Peet, composer Simon Rattle, writer Helen Forester, broadcaster Kenny Everett, TV presenter Anne Robinson, soprano Danielle Thomas, English Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and of course we stand in the shadow of the Beatles. At least we can say that Ringo Starr’s grandmother lived in Crosby. At one time it boasted four Grammar Schools, two boys’ schools and two girls’ schools, and was considered the posh area of Liverpool.
When did you decide to leave your village and become a sister Hospitaller?
Not long after I had left school I moved from Crosby down to Southend on Sea in Essex where I worked with children for some years. Through some Spanish girls, I got to know the Sisters Hospitallers, who had a house in Danbury, Essex. I visited them a few times and decided to come and work there. After a couple of years, I felt called to join them as a Sister and went to Barcelona to learn Spanish; on returning to England I entered the Noviciate in Addlestone, Surrey.
What made you decide to be a nun?
First and foremost, I come from a Catholic background, Catholic Schools and a predominantly Catholic area. In Crosby alone, there were about 5 different congregations of women and at least 4 male congregations. I saw nuns in church, school and about town, so it meant that I already knew a lot about them. I realized early on that I wanted to care for others, hence my work with children, so meeting the Hospitaller Congregation and seeing them caring for the elderly, their prayer life and times of recreation together helped me in my decision to join them.
My whole experience in Africa opened me up and made me aware of how much I have to be grateful for
Why did you choose Sisters Hospitallers instead of another congregation?
What was the difference between these Sisters and all the others that I knew and had met? All I can say that it is the Lord who calls and gives the person a specific vocation, skills and attributes to be able to live out the vocation to which they have been called. It is always providential that God leads you to be where He wants you to be.
What centres have you been in?
I was in Addlestone for seven years, completing my novitiate and first years as a junior Sister. I was then transferred back to Essex and during my stay there trained to be a nurse. After finishing my training I was transferred to Shenstone, Stafford and from there went to Ghana, Africa. After some time I returned to England to upgrade my nursing which I did in Stafford. I then returned to Africa and moved around to different houses in the years I was there. I finally came home to England to have surgery on my left ankle as I was having difficulty with walking. I am currently in Addlestone.
What are some of the most rewarding experiences you can think of?
One beautiful experience I would like to share is when I was in Africa, witnessing the birth of a child, being able to comfort the baby, holding it close and letting it know that it was loved before it passed away in my arms. My whole experience in Africa opened me up and made me aware of how much I have to be grateful for.
All our life is a learning curve, the experiences we have made us what we are today
Have you experienced any difficult moments you would like to tell us about?
One of the most difficult experiences that I have had happened last year when I nearly drowned; I remember bargaining with God telling Him that I didn’t want to die just yet. I was extremely fortunate that four young boys happened to be near and heard me call out. They risked their lives to get me out of the water, effectively saving my life for which I am eternally grateful. I believe strongly in the providence of God and believe it was providence that the boys happened to be on the beach at that time.
Has this experience changed you?
It certainly made me value life and value everyone who comes into my life, changing me and moulding me each moment. All our life is a learning curve, the experiences we have made us what we are today. You will find many beautiful and some difficult experiences throughout your life, but it is what you make of the experience that allows you to grow as a person. They can have a positive effect or a negative one depending on how you use them. I thank God for each experience I have been through and feel that I have moved on from each of them a better person.