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Britain’s oldest nun dies aged 111

Sister Anne on the day of her 103rd birthday

Britain’s oldest nun, Sister Anne de Clerque-Wissocq de Sousberghe, has died at the age of 111.

Sister Anne, who entered the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash, helped create a new form of catechesis following the Second Vatican Council.

She wrote a bestselling guide to catechesis, Tell My People, and in 1966 helped found a national catechetical centre in London called Corpus Christi College. (The college was closed nine years later by Cardinal John Heenan amid allegations of heterodoxy.)

“I wasn’t radical,” Sister Anne told the Catholic Herald in 2013. “I was revolutionary. I changed the way religion was taught.”

She grew up in a devout, well-to-do family in Belgium, and entered the Holy Helpers at the age of 25. The order, founded in 1856, was dedicated to helping the poor, and its members visited those in need, helping them in whatever way they could. For a time Sister Anne worked as a qualified health visitor.

On catechetics, she rebelled against the format of the Penny Catechism, saying she did not like answers being “imposed”. She said: “You have to get children first to think about what they are feeling.”

Of her teaching methods, she explained in 2013: “I wouldn’t call myself a teacher, because I don’t like the idea of imposing anything on anyone. That’s why I always tried to start with the parents. I made the parents listen to their children. Once I put a beautiful picture in front of the children. Then I made them come in, in silence, sit down, keep silence, and just look. I wanted them to understand the difference between seeing and looking. One is simply to note that the picture is there, the other is to try and understand how that picture touches you. Children are much better at the second.

“I remember once, after doing this with some children, one of them came back to me several days later with a picture of an apple. ‘I’ve been looking at this apple,’ she said to me, ‘and I have seen so many things’. There’s an exterior and an interior. For faith, you have to get to the interior.”

Sister Anne, who for many years was known as Sister Romain, was the fourth oldest person in Britain at the time of her death.