franciscan - May 1999
© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 1999
Sister Gabriel CSF, RIP
A Tribute, by Sister Gwenfryd Mary CSF
Sister Gabriel CSF died suddenly on 10 March 1999 at St Francis House Birmingham and her ashes were interred
at Compton Durville. She was aged eighty-six years and was in the thirty-seventh year of profession in vows.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
My first meeting with Gabriel was when she was the Guest Sister at Compton Durville in the sixties. I was an
‘instant hit’ because of my fondness for caraway-seed cake! She was an excellent Guest Sister - a work which enabled
her to use her vast social skills and gifts of caring and compassion to good advantage. A good conversationalist,
her knowledge of subjects like spirituality, prayer, English literature and modern poetry was immense. Several
of us working at Compton were introduced to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and in no time we were firmly addicted:
some of us remain so to this day!
From Compton Durville she went to the parish of St Francis, Bridgwater. Here again she was able to exercise her
gifts with people in ministry. A few years at the brothers’ house, Llanrhôs, North Wales followed that. Again,
Gabriel enjoyed an active ministry of caring for groups and individuals and of giving hospitality to all in need.
Here too, she discovered her culinary skills. This was the place where we both had our first contact with the ‘living
tradition’ of the eremitical life. We met some of the Fairacres sisters who were living the solitary life at the
extreme end of the Lleyn peninsula. From these and other contacts she realised her own calling. This was tested
out over a long period of time in various places. Eventually her permanent hermitage was the converted cricket
pavilion at Compton Durville, from 1982. In mid December 1998 she moved to St Francis House, Birmingham, where
She was a person of great warmth and friendliness and had a wonderful sense of humour as well as great compassion
for the suffering of the world. During her years in community she had made numerous contacts with a wide variety
of people and was able to maintain and nurture these by letter, but latterly by telephone when her sight became
worse and she was almost totally blind. She was meticulous in her prayer for them.
The Desert Fathers spoke of the hermit’s life as ‘enforced idleness for the sake of God’, and I think this is particularly
true in a community like ours, where sisters and brothers are busy with ministries which take them to a variety
of places to preach, teach and counsel. The hermit, in contrast, is physically static - concentrating energy in
one location - in gardening, doing manual work of various kinds, writing and, of course, in prayer and just ‘being’.
Hermits are a little like a group of students in a life-drawing class at an art college who sit in a circle around
the subject of their drawing. Thus each person has a different view from that of their neighbour - but it is of
the same subject. Each hermit has a different view-point from which they ‘see’ God, and each response to that is
unique and personal.
Gabriel was about seventy years of age when she began to live the solitary life. By then her eyesight was already
very poor which meant that some degree of support and help from her sisters was essential in order for her to live
alone safely. She did this with great courage and humour, even though at times she stretched the patience of her
sisters and other friends around Compton Durville! During her last years increasing physical frailty never daunted
her from attempting the impossible. However, her mind was lucid and enquiring right to the end and she was able
to appreciate good literature and spiritual books of great depth. Sisters and local friends would go to the hermitage
in order to read to her, and she was always appreciative.
‘A recluse is one who, removing their abode from the sight of the world, and looking beyond, has only one demand
in prayer - the desire of the world to be’, that was how St Isaac the Syrian put it. And I see these words as being
very applicable to Gabriel. She was not afraid of death, and often spoke of the Lord whom she loved and longed
to be with. Her vision was concentrated on that ‘desire of the world to be’. We rejoice with her in her entrance
into the joy of the Lord, and give thanks for all she shared with her brothers and sisters in her earthly life.