Sr Wendy Renate Rhodes SOLR – or just ‘Sister Wendy’, as she was known to the many thousands who pass through Walsingham each year – died on 23 March, aged 64.
Fr Alex Lane writes:
Wendy’s father was in the army, and so Wendy and her younger sister, Denise – ‘our Denise’, as Wendy always called her – had to adapt to a number of new schools as the family moved around with the army. ‘I was always the new girl,’ she used to say. Eventually the family settled in Stain Cross, Barnsley.
On leaving school, Wendy went to work in the nearby Suba-Seal factory, which manufactured rubber. Both her parents worked for Suba-Seal, and so did Denise. Wendy stayed there until she went to the Priory in Walsingham at the end of the 1970s; and afterwards every hot-water bottle purchased by the Priory was subject to Wendy’s scrutiny before being put in to use!
Before joining the Community, Wendy regularly attended her Parish Church and had a very strong, deep faith. She considered a vocation with the Church Army, but her Parish Priest directed her to the Society of St Margaret at Walsingham, although Wendy had never visited Walsingham before – not even as a pilgrim. After only a few weeks at the Priory Wendy had made up her mind that this life was definitely not for her, and she returned to Barnsley. After being back home for a fortnight, however, she felt a strong pull to go back to Walsingham. She returned and entered the Novitiate.
Wendy was much younger than the other Sisters; but although she was greatly loved by them, her mischievous nature meant that she was the one member of the Novitiate at that time who was not expected to make it through to Profession. In the end, however, she was the only one who stayed.
Wendy once described her experience of making her confession at Walsingham for the first time. As soon as she had knelt down in front of her Confessor, she immediately rose to her feet and said to him ‘I have nothing to confess, because there is no scope for sinning here.’ The second time she went to confession she told the priest that she had discovered there was plenty of scope for sinning at Walsingham, and proceeded to make her confession!
During Wendy’s years of formation the Priory at Walsingham returned to being a branch house of St Saviour’s Priory in Haggerston, which meant that Wendy had to wait longer for election to Life Profession so that the Sisters in London could get to know her before the election. It was a difficult time for her, but by the grace of God she persevered and was duly elected.
During her years as a young Sister she developed a particularly special devotion to Our Lady following an experience she received during her first visit to Medjugorje, after which she never failed to recite her rosary every single day. Early on in her time at Walsingham she worked in the
laundry at the Priory, and assisted in the Shrine sacristy. She often spoke about her trips around the village visiting various people who were accommodating pilgrims in their homes – it was the beginning of her prodigious visiting and coffee-drinking ministry.
Mgr Keith Newton writes:
Sr Wendy was one of the first three lay people to be received into the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on 1 January 2011. Along with Sister Jane Louise, she later returned to Walsingham to work at the Catholic Shrine – in Sr Wendy’s case as one of the welcomers and sacristans. Her and her fellow sisters’ prayers were a great support to all the people who would later that year make the decision to come into the Ordinariate themselves. Sr Wendy will be sorely missed by all members of the Ordinariate, by all those who knew her from her days at the Anglican Shrine, by the family of the Catholic Shrine, and especially by Sister Jane Louise whom we keep especially in our prayers. ND
Sister Wendy’s death will have come as a great shock to all those who knew her. She was very greatly loved, and everyone at New Directions sends sympathy to her family, and to Sr Jane Louise SOLR, whom we know will particularly feel her loss. We miss her already, and it is hard to imagine Walsingham without her. May she rest in peace.