had a rather curious relationship.
I pondered this yesterday on getting the news of the death of Sister Janet Mead, the nun who famously made the single hit record of "The Lord's Prayer".
Sister Janet was one of the four nuns who attended my grandfather's funeral in 1975. Yes, you may ask, "What? Why on earth...?"
Grandpa's parents, my paternal great-grandparents, emigrated to this country in the late 1800's. Great-grandpa was a ship's pilot and marine cartographer so they naturally settled in the city's port area. Great-grandma was one of those women who was a natural and practical social worker. She saw it as her role to help where she could - and she expected her family to do the same. It didn't matter to my great grandmother where someone came from, what the colour of their skin was, or what religion they professed to believe in. Her children were expected to be as accepting.
Great-grandma was a Presbyterian, a go to twice each Sunday and keep the Sabbath sort of Presbyterian. Unlike many of her generation however it did not stop her from having contact with the many Catholics in the area. She knew some of the nuns from the local convent, undoubtedly sent some of those in need of help in their direction. It was all very unusual in those days. Catholics and Protestants didn't mix. I doubt my great grandmother ever entered a Catholic church or that the nuns ever entered the Presbyterian kirk. But it didn't seem to stop them helping each other out when necessary.
My paternal grandfather went on to do the same. He was a church elder. He was on the committee of the Caledonian society. Both groups saw their role as more than that of church administration or social club. They were there as a social service too. And this was particularly so for my grandfather. As a tailor by profession he often made uniforms for the governors of the state, for ship's captains and more - and he made suits and more for the clergy. This was long before these things became freely commercially available. Grandpa would occasionally see nuns, in habits and only ever in pairs, walking the streets of the port. He knew, from his mother, that they were often doing an essential social service. They ran the orphanage, fed the families when a father was sick or injured, cared for the elderly who had nobody else, and much more. It was a side of the nuns that most people, especially those who were not Catholic, never really knew about. As a small kitten the abundant myths about nuns always rather puzzled me. My grandfather seemed to have quite a high opinion of them.
He certainly didn't agree with "all that Latin clap-trap or Hail Mary stuff" but he didn't condemn them for it either. Instead my grandfather saw to it that the local Catholic youth were encouraged to join in the sailing and the fishing and invited to the ceilidh's organised by the Caledonian society. Grandpa would play the fiddle at the latter - and his feet never touched the swords when he danced across them. (I wonder how the Senior Cat never inherited these skills?)
And over the years, somewhere along the line, he came into contact with Sister Janet more than once. He used to shake his head over her. How could a woman with so much musical talent be a nun? "Just a piano teacher"? Rubbish! The woman could sing! She had a wonderful voice!
I suppose at some point this must have got back to Sister Janet because, along with three other nuns, she appeared at the back of the church on the day of my grandfather's funeral. In 1975 that was still a very rare and unusual thing in our part of the world, a great tribute to my grandfather.
Her voice singing the great Presbyterian funeral hymns "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" and "Our God, our help in ages past, are still something I remember. It was a generous gift to us all - and she used it well.
RIP Sister Janet.