Education and Compassion in Isleworth and Around the World

Marie Madeleine

Last Saturday, a few from St John’s and St Mary’s spent time with Catholic sisters Mary and Joanna at Gumley House for a quiet morning in preparation for advent. As usual with our prayer mornings at Gumley, we were warmly welcomed, expertly hosted and kindly guided through a quiet and reflective time of discussion and prayer. The Catholic community of sisters who use Gumley House are part of the order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ), a group with deep historical connections to Isleworth. Each time we’ve visited, we’ve learned a little more from the sisters about their Christian presence in our parish, just down the road from St John’s.

Gumley House was originally built in 1700 by John Gumley as a family home. In 1841 Madame d’Houët, foundress of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, bought Gumley House and established Catholic schools in the building. Two schools were then founded at the property: a boarding school for the wealthy and a day school for the poor children of the parish. Two of the most famous pupils of Gumley at this time were Blanche and Marguerite, the daughters of the eldest son of the exiled King of France, Louis Philippe. Of course, Gumley School is today a key institution in Isleworth, a Catholic secondary school for girls where some of the children from our own congregation attend.

Madame d’Houet herself was a remarkable woman. She was widowed in 1805 while pregnant with her first child. As a single mother, she took rooms in Amiens on the Somme to be near her son who was at a Jesuit school nearby. During a celebration of mass in 1817 she felt personally called by God to start a new religious order. This was a time of great upheaval in France, (a world depicted in the famous story of Les Misérables), and Madame d’Houet, or Marie Madeleine as she preferred, had compassion on those facing hardship including prisoners of war, neglected and abused women and refugees forced to flee their homes due to political persecution or turmoil. She formed the Faithful Compansions of Jesus, an order for women, that today continues to live out her vision of education and compassion in countries all over the world including in the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Romania. Their administrative headquarters are here at Gumley House, in Isleworth. For more info on the history and work of FCJ please visit www.fcjsisters.org

David Maclure