Frances Margaret Taylor - Founder of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God

Frances Margaret Taylor (name in religion Mother Magdalen of the Sacred Heart) 20 January 1832; died in London, 9 June1900) was an English nurse, editor and writer, nun, and Superior General and founder of the Roman Catholic religious congregation the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

Early life
Frances Taylor was the youngest of ten children of Henry Taylor (1777-1842), Anglican Rector of a rural Lincolnshire parish, and his wife Louisa Maria Jones (1793-1869). Her paternal grandfather Richard Taylor (fl.1745-1829) had been rector of parishes in Wiltshire and Hampshire. On her mother's side, her family were merchants and shopkeepers in the City of London. Her father, a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, had been a curate at St Mary Abbots, Kensington, where in 1816 he married. His final appointment was to Stoke Rochford in 1824, where he was instituted by his patron, the vicar of Kensington, Thomas Rennell, whose High Church sympathies he shared.

Frances Taylor was born in Stoke Rochford. Following the death of Henry Taylor, the family returned to London in reduced circumstances, but Louisa Taylor rejected a suggestion that Frances be sent to a clergy orphan school. The family shortly moved to Brompton, London, where Frances and her elder sisters encountered the Tractarian spirit and teaching at Holy Trinity Brompton Church. A few years later, the family moved to St John's Wood, and later to the vicinity of Regent's Park, possibly to be nearer to Christ Church, Albany Street, then one of London’s leading Tractarian churches. The Holy Cross (Park Village) Sisters were nearby, the first religious order to be established in the Church of England since the Protestant Reformation.

Frances developed a desire to serve the poor and vulnerable of London. In 1849 she made a failed application to become a member of St John's House, based in Fitzroy Square, a nursing school which also functioned as an Anglican religious community. In 1848 her sisters Emma and Charlotte had joined an Anglican Sisterhood, the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Trinity (Devonport) founded by Priscilla Lydia Sellon. Frances followed suit around 1852, as a ‘visitor’, and she appears to have stayed for two years. She may have been involved in nurse training at Bristol, and she appears to have served as a nurse in Plymouth during the cholera epidemic of 1853. By that time, like her sister Charlotte, she had come to realise that her vocation lay elsewhere.

Conversion and early years as a Catholic
In March 1854 the Crimean War broke out. Frances volunteered to nurse in the military hospitals in Turkey. Though under age she was accepted for the second party of volunteer nurses which went out in December 1854, being joined there by her sister Charlotte in April 1855.

She nursed briefly with Florence Nightingale at Scutari Hospital, though she was critical of the organisation particularly of supplies at the hospital, and she shortly moved to another military hospital at Koulali. There, she encountered the Sisters of Mercy and the stoical Irish Catholic soldiery. In the poor conditions of the military hospitals, Frances sought the counsel of Father Sydney Woollett SJ, who was assisting the Catholic chaplain Father William Ronan SJ. She was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father Woollett on April 14 1855.

Her wartime experiences appeared as her first book. It was one of the earliest published eye-witness accounts of the military hospitals. The book in its final edition (1857) included an impassioned appeal for reform of the public nursing system, and in general of the treatment of the poor by contemporary society.
On her return to England, Frances put herself under the direction of Henry Edward Manning, Rector of the Church of St. Mary and the Angels, Bayswater. Dr. Manning introduced Frances to Catholic charitable organisations, allowing her to work with the London poor as she desired.

Lady Georgiana Fullerton (1812-1885) was to have a great influence on Frances’ life, encouraging and assisting with her literary and charitable work. They first met c.1859 following the publication of Frances’ first and most popular historical novel Tyborne, a story of the Catholic recusant martyrs of the sixteenth century. Between the years 1859 and 1866, Frances made determined efforts to find a religious vocation, including time spent with the Daughters of Charity in Paris, and the Filles de Marie (Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary) in England.

At this time, her spiritual director was the Jesuit Peter Gallwey. Around 1865-7, with the support of Dr. Manning and Father James Clare S.J., Rector of the Jesuit Church, Farm Street, Frances visited Ireland to study Catholic charitable institutions, partly in order to better assist Irish emigrants in England. This visit resulted in one of her most important literary works, Irish Homes and Irish Hearts (1867), a state-of-the-nation work on contemporary Ireland.

Founding of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God
In 1867 Lady Georgiana Fullerton translated the rule of the ‘Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception’, a rural Polish congregation. She obtained permission from the founder, Edmund Bojanowski, to establish the congregation in England. On 24 October 1868, with the help of Father J. L. Biemans, a Belgian priest working in the Saffron Hill area of London, Frances Taylor took charge of a putative English branch of this congregation. In February 1869, at the invitation of the order of priests, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the community moved to the Catholic mission at Tower Hill, where their ministry included running an industrial school and soup kitchen. It was at that stage, following the death of her mother, that Frances was able to become a permanent member of the group.

From August to September 1869 Frances was engaged on a journey across Europe, in order to see the working of the Polish community and meet its founder. Before returning to England, Frances visited the Mother House of the ‘Servants of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary’ in Antwerp. Mère Jeanne Telghuis, the Founder, advised her to take up laundry work. On 24 September 1869 the future founder and two of her companions were received as postulants.

On 23 January 1870 Frances Taylor took the religious name of Sister Mary Magdalen of the Sacred Heart. When the Archbishop of Posen would not allow Frances’s proposed adaptations to the rule of the Polish congregation, with the advice of her supporters, she founded a separate congregation. The Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God thus came into being on 12 February 1872, when Frances made her final vows.

In 1874 Frances Taylor met Fr Augustus Dignam SJ, who was shortly to become her spiritual director and an important adviser. In London, the Sisters' principal works were the visitation and nursing of the poor in their own homes, catechising, and also the rescuing of young women from prostitution. Her friend Cardinal Manning remained a firm supporter, and the congregation's early works with the poor were focused on his Archdiocese of Westminster.

Final years
The congregation grew rapidly, and by 1900, the year of Frances Taylor’s death, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God administered over twenty convents and institutions, including the Providence Free Hospital, St. Helens, Lancashire. The congregation was based mainly in England and Ireland, but there were also convents in Paris and Rome. The work was focused on refuges and hostels, schools and orphanages, and health care. As a result of her traumatic experiences nursing in the Crimea, Frances Taylor suffered greatly from insomnia. She also suffered from oedema for many years, and in 1894 diabetes was diagnosed. She died in the convent, Soho Square, London on 9 June 1900, after a long and painful illness. In the sermon preached at her funeral, Father Francis Scoles SJ, stated that ‘with pains and prayer she has left a perfect work.’ Frances Taylor's death was noted widely in Britain and abroad, and a large quantity of written condolences came from clergy and religious, including from as far away as Australia and the USA.

In September 1959, Frances Taylor’s remains were transferred from Mortlake Cemetery, Surrey, to the chapel of the Generalate and Novitiate of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God at Maryfield Convent, Roehampton, , London, and placed in a vault in front of the Sacred Heart altar.

Literary works
Frances Taylor wrote for the service of the Catholic Church, and also for the financial support of her family, and later of the religious congregation which she founded. Her book Religious Orders was printed by Emily Faithfull’s Victoria Press, which had been established specifically in order to provide employment for women.

Some of her non-fictional works are difficult to categorise, going broadly under the headings of history, travelogue, social commentary, biography and devotional matter. In addition to these and her various fictional works, mainly collections of stories, she wrote numerous articles for Catholic magazines, and was active as a translator from the French.

From January 1863 to June 1871 she was proprietor and editor of the popular Catholic magazine known as The Lamp.. In July 1864, in conjunction with the Jesuits, she became founder-editor of the major Catholic literary review The Month, a position which she held for a year. It was in this journal under her editorship that John Henry Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius was first published. In 1884 she helped Fr Dignam to publish his popular Messenger of the Sacred Heart, the organ of the Apostleship of Prayer. Her works also brought her into contact with clerical literary figures, such as Brother Henry Foley SJ, the historian of the Society of Jesus, and Father Matthew Russell SJ, the founder-editor of The Irish Monthly. Most of her published works were initially produced pseudonymously, sometimes appearing initially in journals before publication as books, and their identification and dating is often problematic. Many went through a number of editions.

The first prayer for Mother Magdalen’s beatification, the first stage towards canonization, was published in 1935. A cause for the beatification of Mother Magdalen Taylor was opened by Cardinal Basil Hume in 1982.

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