Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Teresa Higginson: a summary

Teresa Helena Higginson was the 3rd child of Frances Higginson, from Preston, Lancashire, England and Mary Bowness from Cumbria, a convert. While expecting Teresa, her mother went on a pilgrimage to St. Winefride’s Well in Hollywell, North Wales.  Teresa was born there on 27th of May 1844 and was baptised Teresa after Teresa of Avila and after Helena who founded the True Cross. She had a lively and dominant personality as well as tremendous strength of will. Aged 3, experiencing the mystery of the Blessed Trinity and feeling surrounded by an overwhelming power and majesty, she gave herself to God in imitation of Our Lady giving herself to God as a child. 

In March 1854, aged 10, Teresa and her sisters were sent to be educated by the nuns at the Convent of Mercy, Nottingham. She was a high-spirited tomboy but had frail health. Realising her strong willpower she started to control it by vowing to mortify the senses. To advance in holiness she knelt for hours before the Blessed Sacrament, getting up in the night to say the rosary.  Aged 12 Teresa made her 1st Holy Communion on 12th April 1857 and was confirmed Agnes on 17th May 1857.

In 1865 Teresa left the convent aged 21. The family went to live in St. Helens, Lancashire. Her father then became bankrupt so they moved to Liverpool. Next the family moved to Egremont but she stayed at home because of ill health. In 1871 during an epidemic of cholera, St. Alexander’s school in Bootle, Lancashire became short of teachers so Fr. Edward Powell the rector wrote to Sister Mary Phillips, head of Notre Dame teacher training college, asking for a teacher. She had none but recommended Teresa, the sister of one of her the students. Without studying Teresa managed to pass the teaching exam and after spending a year teaching in a village school in Orrell, Lancashire she was passed by the Government inspectors. She took up a teaching post at St. Mary’s Wigan, Lancashire in 1872 and stayed for 3 years.

During that time as Teresa lived with her fellow teachers, Miss Susan Ryland and the Catterall sisters, who witnessed strange goings on in the house. Also in the various places Teresa lived in later, people including priests were able to independently testify as to supernatural occurrences.  In Wigan, the devil was heard throwing her out of bed and making strange noises, which frightened the others.  The women came to realise her strange fits were states of ecstasy, in which her body would go rigid and nobody could move her, or her body became soft and light. Minor miracles were also noted. They noticed her rigorous fasts, living on the Eucharist alone, taking no food for up to 3 days. 

The devil’s banging and dragging noises frightened her fellow lodgers and he even impersonated Teresa’s own voice to deceive people thus fuelling rumours and gossip. This unrest caused Bishop O’Reilly to ask other Bishops and Priests for their opinion. After an unfavourable report by Fr. Hall OSB the Bishop told Teresa to stop writing about the devotion. Her Spiritual Director was relocated and replaced with Fr. Snow who agreed to take on the task and began to study the mystical life.  Teresa was refused Holy Communion by the new parish priest Fr. Michael Beggan who did not believe her, and eventually threw her out of St. Alexander's school.

Because of the rumours and gossip spread around Teresa was unable to get a job in Liverpool but obtained a post at Eccleshall in 1886. Several other short-term positions followed. In July 1887, Teresa went to stay with a friend, Elizabeth Dawson in Clitheroe remaining for 3 months. Her sufferings increased greatly until on the 24th October 1887 she experienced the Mystical Marriage.  She felt unable to return to her former position but felt instead drawn to go to Scotland, with Fr. Snow’s help she arrived at St. Catherine’s Convent, Edinburgh where she remained for 12 years with the nuns. Whilst there, she continued the same life of prayer, suffering but with an absolute peace.

Teresa returned to her sisters in Neston in July 1899 when her sister Fanny became ill. After her sister recovered Teresa stayed with Annie Garrett and her brother who had a shop in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. During 1900, Teresa went with her friend Elizabeth Fleck on a pilgrimage travelling around Italy and meeting Pope Leo XIII and the future Pope Piux X. The next 2 years were spent in nursing a number of the sick and dying including Fr. Powell before returning to Neston once more in 1902.

Teresa returned to teaching i
n January 1904 in the village of Chudleigh, Devon.  Despite the hardships she remained in her new position and the children grew to love her. On the 14th December 1904 while preparing to return to Neston for Christmas, she had a stroke. She was given the last sacraments but seemed for a while to get better before again relapsing.  Finally, on February 15th 1905, she died and her sister Louisa came to take her body back home to Neston. She was buried with her mother in the churchyard of St. Winefride, Neston.

Teresa’s cause for canonisation went to Rome in 1937 and it reached the stage of her being declared ‘Servant of God’. However the Holy See declared her cause as 'non expedire' (not expedient) and her beatification was shelved.

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