A nurse who tended dying soldiers alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War could become Britain’s next saint after the Pope declared that she lived a life of “heroic virtue”.
Pope Francis has given Frances Taylor the title “Venerable” and authorised the Church to search for the two healing miracles needed to proclaim her a saint.
Frances, the youngest of 10 children of an Anglican vicar from Lincolnshire, was 22 when she volunteered to join the “Lady of the Lamp” in Scutari, Turkey, in 1854 when Britain, along with France and the Ottoman Empire, was at war with Russia.
She converted to Catholicism after she was impressed by the faith of the dying Irish soldiers she was caring for.
She went on to establish a religious order – the Poor Servants of the Mother of God – which under her direction opened refuges for prostitutes and homeless women and children in London before spreading throughout Europe.
As Mother Magdalen Taylor, Frances also founded the Providence Free Hospital in St Helens, Lancashire, and she took over the running of St Joseph’s Asylum in Dublin. She died in her convent in Soho Square in 1900 after falling ill en route to Rome and she is buried at Roehampton, south west London, after establishing 20 institutions in her own lifetime.
Today her order continues to work particularly with the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
One miracle is needed for her beatification, when she takes the title “Blessed”, and a second miracle at her intercession is needed to declare her a saint.
If her Cause progresses swiftly she may become the first British woman to be declared a saint since 1970 when Pope Paul VI canonised Anne Line, Margaret Ward and Margaret Clitheroe, the 40 English and Welsh Martyrs of the Protestant Reformation.
Sister Mary Whelan, the leader of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, said: “We are delighted by this good news.
“In proclaiming Mother Magdalen as Venerable, the Church has recognised her as a woman of profound faith, who devoted herself to serving the spiritual and practical needs of the poor and vulnerable.
“In her life and work Mother Magdalen embodied a respect and compassion for every person she encountered.
“She famously said: ‘Oh that someone will rise up to plead the cause of the poor and help them.’ That call and her life continue to inspire us as Sisters, associates and friends throughout the world as we respond to the challenges of today.”
Taylor was born in 1832 in Stoke Rochford and volunteered for the Crimea amid claims that, as casualties mounted, the French were nursing their wounded while the British were letting theirs die.
Florence Nightingale left for the Crimea in October 1854 and Frances followed her two months later.
Frances would later recount her experiences in a book called Eastern Hospitals and English Nurses, which describes how there were just three nurses allotted to every 1,500 patients.
She was publicly critical of the maladministration of the war, especially in the failure to properly equip and feed the British Army.
She describes how she grew weary at the “scenes of sickness and death”, saying the nurses witnessed “hourly” the “flower of the British Army cut down in the prime of their youth and strength”.
She persuaded the Times newspaper to ship out urgently needed medical supplies to soldiers in field hospitals.
She often worked alongside nuns from the Sisters of Mercy who were consoling wounded and dying Irish soldiers and was inspired by the depth and simplicity of the faith of the sisters and their patients.
Because she was well educated, fatally wounded soldiers would ask her to write their last letters home to their mothers but often, as she wrote, her tears would fall on to the page and mingle with the wet ink.
On returning to England she joined her widowed mother in London but committed herself to working with the poor of the slums around Tower Hill. At the age of 36, after her mother had died, she began to think about founding a religious institute and following a tour of convents in Europe set up her order in London on September 24 1869 with three other women.
She was helped by her close friend, Lady Georgina Fullerton, herself a convert, and some London-based Jesuit priests. In under a year more than 50 women had asked to join the Poor Servants and Frances began to open convents in Brentford, Roehampton and Streatham, London.
With the help of the Jesuits and Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, she succeeded in persuading Pope Leo XIII to approve the order’s constitutions in 1879.
Her order spread throughout Europe and continues to flourish in Britain, America, Ireland, Italy, and Kenya.
The Poor Servants own the Olallo Centre, a hostel run by the St John of God Brothers for east European migrants sleeping rough on the streets of London, helping them to either find work or return to their own countries.
Other British post-Reformation women who are being considered for sainthood include Elizabeth Prout, the 19th century foundress of the Passionist Sister who worked in the slums of Manchester; Mary Potter, a Londoner who founded an order of nursing nuns in Nottingham in the same period, and Margaret Sinclair, a 20th century Scottish nun who died of tuberculosis after tending to the poor of Edinburgh.
The Vatican is also studying the sainthood causes of London-born Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough, a Bridgettine nun who helped to hide about 60 Jews from the Nazis in her Rome convent during the Second World War, and Mother Katherine Flanagan, also a London-born Bridgettine.
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