Some suitable women A study of an Anglican religious order for women: life and work in the context of the mission to the streets and lanes in inner city Melbourne and beyond 1888-2013

2017-05-17T02:01:40Z (GMT) by Dunlop, Sheila Smith
Abstract Initially it was my intention to write a biographical history of Emma Caroline Silcock, later known as Sister Esther, but it soon became clear that because of the nature of the life she lived as an Anglican religious Sister written material was sparse. Apart from a few preserved letters she had sent to her Sisters while overseas and the instructions and meditations she gave them from time to time, there were no other personal records available. Nor was there, on enquiry, anything of note in the personal details available from her few remaining relatives. The older Sisters who had lived and worked alongside Sister Esther and would have been a rich source of oral information had, by now, joined her in heaven. In 1946 Sister Elizabeth wrote a small edition of Sister Esther’s life titled, Esther, Mother Foundress. While it provides some useful historical material its recollections of Sister Esther as an individual are somewhat hagiographical and therefore not reliable as a source for serious biographical writing. In 1988 Lynne Strahan published Out of the Silence an oral history of the Community of the Holy Name to celebrate its centenary but neither did she provide any significant new insight into the character of Sister Esther. Therefore, twenty-five years later, I came to the conclusion that I could, as a member of the Community of the Holy Name, attempt to write from a different perspective a more substantial history of the Community of the Holy Name which Sister Esther founded in 1888 in the context of the work of the Sisters within the Mission to the Streets and Lanes in inner city Melbourne of which Sister Esther was the first Manager. In so doing, I would hopefully, be able to bring to life for the reader something of the pioneering spirit of this truly remarkable woman and the story of the evolving life of her Community. I also felt that I might be able to highlight to some extent the differences in method applied among charitable organisations in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century that Shurlee Swain writes about in her doctoral thesis and compare them with the method applied by the Mission to the Streets and Lanes. Swain concludes that charitable institutions, which were run mainly by respectable middle-class women, failed the poor in that they classified those in need in terms of the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’. The deserving poor were considered to be respectable people who had fallen on hard times and were therefore worthy of the help they received, while the undeserving were those who could only blame themselves for their predicament because of the degenerate lives they lived. The respectable middle-class members of society of the period recognised that they had, as good Christians, an obligation to engage in acts of charity but, unfortunately, it was often conditional. By contrast, and by choosing to live and work alongside the poor in Little Lonsdale Street Sister Esther and her Sisters won the respect and trust of their neighbours and charity was served without discrimination. They endeavoured to put into practice their firmly held theological belief that all are made in the image of God and, therefore, are equal in His sight. Charity was dispensed not from without but from within, from the heart. Alongside this practical expression of Christianity there was concern for the spiritual welfare of the people. Sister Esther’s Anglo-Catholic belief with its strong emphasis on social justice was its motivation. Regular services for the people were held at the Mission House in addition to the daily rhythm of prayers recited by the Sisters throughout the day. The Sisters’ day began and ended with prayer. Sister Esther’s legacy proved to be a lasting one. The Mission to the Streets and Lanes amalgamated to become Anglicare while the Community of the Holy Name continues into the present.