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franciscan - January 2002

© The Society of Saint Francis, 2001

Sister Veronica CSF, RIP

Sister Veronica CSF died on Thursday 30 August 2001, whilst on holiday in Hythe, where she had previously lived with CSF in the convent of the Community of the Presentation there. She was aged ninety-two years and was in the forty-ninth year of her Religious profession. Her funeral and requiem were at Hythe on 21 September 2001 and her ashes were interred at Compton Durville on 8 November 2001, after the midday Eucharist.

The text of the sermon preached at the funeral requiem by Sister Elizabeth CSF:

Sister Veronica (Aida Gullan) was born in Cairo on 10 November 1909, the daughter of an English nurse and an Egyptian soldier. She was baptised Aida, a name she joked about in later life - the Egyptian princess! Not perhaps so much of a joke when her mother, having returned to her home in Norfolk, had the child fostered. .A one-parent and mixed race child was not so happily accepted in those days as now, and Veronica had to work with that "chip" for much of her life. She knew her foster family better than her own.

Growing up, she followed her mother in the nursing profession, training at Southmead Hospital in Bristol and subsequently as a midwife and district nurse in London. She worked for some years in Bermondsey, in a very run down and needy area. People who knew her there or in Bristol, writing after her death, remembered her as a great friend and a cheerful and hardworking nurse.

She first joined CSF in 1948, leaving after nine months, but was received again in 1951. She made her Life Profession on May 16th 1956 before the then Bishop of London, Dr Montgomery Campbell.

I knew her first as a charming, lively nurse who kept the patients happy in our Old Peoples' Home in Dalston, singing, scraping away on her violin, or dancing round the ward strumming the base of a metal bedpan! Where professional work was concerned she expected a lot from those who worked with her, strict but loving, impatient with moaners, though always understanding of anyone in trouble. The last six years of our time at Dalston were difficult, with one LCC Department saying we must upgrade the Home, another forbidding any renovation as we were due for "compulsory purchase" in LCC's postwar planning. Veronica was affected by these pressures and worried about the old ladies. She had a quick temperament and could be roused to some effect when provoked; but she was unfailingly courteous and always the first to apologize.

The call to Zambia came in the early 1970s, a request for sisters to join the mission at Fiwila where Brothers Stephen Lambert, Francis and Aidan served. Already at retirement age, Veronica and Angela Mary were keen to go and set off with high hopes. A sea voyage to Durban gave them some holiday, and then a sad and painful separation occurred. Veronica's beautiful colouring had developed; and the sisters were subjected to apartheid laws, travelling for the long journey north in different sections of the train. She saw this later as an identification with African people, but at the time was quite upset.

Fiwila and its folk won the sisters' hearts, and while Angela Mary looked after a settlement of leprosy patients, Veronica was in her element with the cottage hospital. This comprised a small brick building and a number of rondavel huts about eight feet across. For a nurse trained in England it must have been a trial, but she took it all in her stride and was totally at home. The Medicair service came once a week, though there were also the emergencies when Brother Aidan had to drive her with a patient to the nearest hospital, fifty miles away. Otherwise Veronica diagnosed, treated, sang and prayed with her patients and loved it. When the time came for withdrawal, she was so in love with Africa that she elected to go for a year to Dar es Salaam to be with the Brothers there.

We might have thought that her return to Compton Durville would mark a further stage of retirement. But no! When an appeal was circularized by the Sisters of the Presentation for any Community to spare two sisters to live and work with their remaining two, so that they might stay in their own convent at Hythe, Veronica and Angela Mary once more volunteered. The four got on well and made community; and it was not until thirteen years later, after the death of Sister Bessie CP, and all were in their late eighties, that they agreed to remove to Birmingham to have others care for them.

That move was not to be the last for Veronica. She had lost her heart to Hythe and to those she had come to know there. At 91, very frail, she insisted on going for a "short break" with her great friend Libby Epps. She held her own for two days, then gave in. She died peacefully, on August 30th with great dignity and totally happy. May she rest in peace and rise in glory
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