An Interview with Sister Ann CJ

As is tradition on Mary Ward day at St Mary’s, we invite one of the nuns, who was associated with the school, back to speak to the girls. This year, Sister Ann Stafford from the Bar Convent in Yorkshire, joined us for the day at a special Mass, where she spoke about Mary Ward and her values.

Sister Ann came to St Mary’s in 1963 as a pupil. At the age of 18, she left and joined the Order at St Mary’s Ascot. “Being at St Mary’s within such a community confirmed what I wanted to be. I was taken by the joy of the nuns who gave me such inspiration,” she said. In 1982, she returned to St Mary’s as Sr. Elizabeth known as Lizzie with Sr. Campion (now Jane)as a member of the community and staff teaching RE and working in the boarding houses looking after the Clockhouse. “When we arrived at St Mary’s, we thought we’d never met such rude girls in our lives. We were terrified of them! It was the school against the community and the rest of the world!” Sr. Jane became headmistress in September 1985.  One of the first changes she made was to introduce the house system which helped bridge the divide between pupils of all ages and unite them through house activities. “The older ones began looking after the younger ones and a supportive spirit started building throughout the school,” she said.

It became clear to the community that they couldn’t sustain the future of the school with the sisters as vocations had dropped. “We needed to make sure the school was viable and could maintain itself.” It was then that the nuns began the process of forming a charitable trust and handing the school over to lay management. Sister Ann left in 1997.

Visiting St Mary’s today, Sister Ann was heartened to see that Mary Ward’s vision and spirituality is still at the heart of the school and the girls. “It is caught rather than taught,” she says. She describes St Mary’s as being “so welcoming,” and says that the girls’, “vibrancy and zest for life is very much apparent in them all.” When asked to compare St Mary’s to other schools, she pauses and takes some time to reflect. “The most precious gift St Mary’s has is its soul. It isn’t something you can buy, like buildings – it’s just an ethos that exists all around the school and in every girl who comes here.”