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A Fascinating and Insightful Read for anyone who loves Jennifer Worth's Midwife Trilogy
on 24 May 2015
Having become a huge fan of Jennifer Worth's books, I welcomed the opportunity to find out more about the Community of St John the Divine; the actual Anglican community where Jennifer undertook her Part II midwifery training, and on which the order of Nonnatus House in Call The Midwife was based on.
Some of the most moving scenes in Call The Midwife depict the nuns chanting or in their act of worship, and I have been fascinated to find out more about the lives of the nuns which combined their religious discipline with midwifery and district nursing - long hours of hard toil as well as following their spiritual lives.
Sisters of the East End has been brilliantly written by Helen Batten as a memoir of the life of a nun, Sister Catherine Mary, who entered the CSJD community in 1958, the same year as Jennifer joined them to continue her midwifery training. The recount of Sister Catherine Mary's life has been based on the real experiences of the six existing Sisters of the CSJD, who shared the stories of their lives working as nurses and midwives with Helen. This is not dissimilar to the way Jennifer herself wrote her own memoirs, which are an amalgamation of personal recollections and those of colleagues and parish workers who worked within the district of Poplar, with names being changed to protect individual's identities. What we can enjoy then is an authentic and personal account of the journey of a girl born in North London who receives her Call in her early twenties, and has spent the rest of her life following her vocation as a nun, nurse, midwife and spiritual director. Just as in Jennifer's books there is much humour as well as the natural doubts and worries of the Sister as she passes through the different levels before taking her life vows. But it's so much more than this; we learn the history of the CSJD from its founding in 1848, the evolvement of nursing and midwifery, an account of how the Sisters set up a midwifery school in Milawi, and how the community has always kept apace with modern times.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and read it cover to cover in one day. The Sisters have collaborated with the makers of the BBC Call The Midwife series, and some of their tales can also be enjoyed in the book, The Life and Times of Call The Midwife. I was woefully ignorant of the connection between nursing and nuns (it's no coincidence they are known as Sisters!), and this book has opened new avenues of interest in nursing, the lives of those who enter religious communities, and the East End. It's a story of faith and humanity, and I came away with a sense of serenity and love, borne from these people who have had the good fortune of finding their vocation.