Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Susan Ryland (Sister Mary St. Barbara) 1852 - 1941

Susan Ryland, later Sister Mary St. Barbara, was one of Teresa's fellow teachers at the school of St. Mary's, Wigan, and was to be the closest friend she ever had, staying with Teresa and her family in Neston during the school holidays.

She was born on February 29th 1852 to James and Elizabeth Ryland in Edge Hill, Liverpool.  Like Teresa she trained to be a teacher and was living with Teresa in Wigan during the period January 1874 to July 1875.  During that time Susan saw at first hand the diabolical attacks on Teresa, was a key witness to her mystical manifestations and came to nurse her during her illnesses.  Their time together was exceptionally close yet very brief, and when they parted although they corresponded they never saw each other again face to face.  Lady Cecil Kerr gives Susan Ryland's accounts of what she herself witnessed at this time:

“To begin with the receiving of the Crown of thorns. It took place on Passion Sunday, 1874. I was the only person present. She asked me to come upstairs in the afternoon. She was apparently suffering and she went to lie down. She asked me to pray that she might be able to go to Sunday school and at night she would bear all our Lord wished. She added: ‘He gave me this pain Himself.’ She was able to get up, and went to Sunday school and also to Benediction. Towards night she got very weak and after we were in bed became very ill. I wanted to go for Miss Woodward who slept in the next room, but she would not let me so I returned to bed. All at once she sprang up and I am sure she left the bed, for I sprang up too to pull her down. For a while she spoke to her heavenly visitor. Then she put out her right hand towards our Lord (for it was He) and said aloud: ‘No, not that, the thorny crown, give me the thorny crown.’ Then in a few moments she fell back just as she had got up. I said to her: ‘Teresa are you going to die? If you are I must go for Father Wells.’ She did not seem to wish to get him up so I left it alone. Then she said to me: ‘Our Lord has given me His Crown of Thorns, and also the Wound in the shoulder.’ I saw no signs of it next day, except I thought there were pimples on the forehead, but I could not say whether they had anything to do with it or not.

“On the eve of Palm Sunday after going to bed (I think I had to take her as I often did on account of her weakness), I was kneeling by her side and she was unconscious (at least so far as I was concerned). She was speaking (to herself) to someone present. She raised her right hand and held it up quite firmly for a minute or two.2 Then she let it drop. I did not examine it. I was strangely wanting (as I think now) in curiosity about these things, but the next morning she kept it closed, placing her thumb in the middle. I think she washed herself that morning with the left hand but I forget. However, when she handed me back the towel it was stained with blood. The morning after both hands were closed. I washed her and she said to me: ‘I can wash my own hands, dear.’ So I gave her the same towel and she returned it to me again spotted with blood. This happened every day…

“On Good Friday we went to the morning service leaving Miss Higginson in bed and the house door locked. When we returned we both ran up to her at once and found her stretched on the bed, her arms extended in the form of a cross, and wounds in her hands. As usual I did not go very near. I just saw Miss Woodward throwing up the clothes at the foot of the bed to see if the feet were the same, and I ran off to bring Father Wells. He came. She was still the same, and he said to me: ‘Run for the doctor.’ I went and when I got back accompanied by Dr. Hart she was natural again and talking to Father Wells. Dr. Hart found her extremely weak, but, as Father Wells said, he did not at all know what was the matter with her.”

St Paul's Convent Selly Park

Susan against advice then tried her vocation in a strict contemplative order in France, but it proved she was completely unsuitable for such a state of life.  She then tried her vocation as a Sister of Charity of St. Paul, a teaching order in which she had more success and took the name Sister Mary St. Barbara.  The mother house is based in Selly Park, Birmingham and exists to this day.  The rest of her life was uneventful, and she was to teach in schools of the order around the country, and she died in 1941 at Selly Park aged 88.  She was later to be a key source of testimony for both Teresa's biography Lady Cecil Kerr and the beatification process during the 1930's.

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