Other Little Ships
by Sister Constance Murphy SSJD Patmos Press
Redoubtable is one word that comes to mind to describe Sister Constance. As an advocate – whether for her girls as headmistress of Qu’Appelle Diocesan (later St. Chad’s) Girls School in Regina, or on behalf of her fellow seniors in Toronto and elsewhere, perhaps formidable would be better.
This is the memoir of a 94-year-old who has seen a lot, done a lot, forgotten nothing. Granddaughter of a freed slave, daughter of an upper middle- class “coloured” (her word) family in Baltimore, a promising high achiever whose family opposed her vocation to the religious life to which she was professed in 1936, she returned to university for an MA at age 73.
After one lifetime of teaching, Sister Constance developed a wide-ranging ministry with the aging, during a period of major change in medical and legal attitudes. In her 70s, she returned to university for an MA in education and a certificate in gerontology. She was a founding member of the Canadian Institute of Religion and Gerontology and the Canadian and Ontario Associations on Gerontology. And she is still going strong, as a visitor, lecturer and workshop leader.
This is the memoir of an accomplished woman whose life is dedicated to, and directed by her God. Though written mostly in a sprightly and highly personal style, there is a slight touch of old-fashioned formality which simply adds to its charm.
It is also a gold-mine of anecdotal material and historical documentation of middle-class black social history, public and private education, momentous changes in the care of the elderly and growing concern for their rights.
Above all, it is the many-faceted discovery of God through serving others written by a nun who is both heavenly minded and of great earthly good.
William Portman first met Sister Constance in the 1950s when she was headmistress of Qu’Appelle Diocesan School in Regina and he was a theological student at St. Chad’s College.