Kathleen CLAPHAM (Sr Mary John) 1926 – 2022



Kathleen CLAPHAM (Sr Mary John),

1926 – 2022

Sr Kathleen (Katy) died peacefully this morning, the 23rd of March 2022, at St Michael’s Care, Westgate-on-Sea, England.

Her funeral will take place on the 6th of April at 9.30 a.m. at Holy Family Parish, Birchington






In thanksgiving for the life of ‘Katy’

Written by Sr Teresa McMenamin  


Kathleen, or ‘Katy’ as she quickly became known, was born on the 13th of January 1926 in Crayford, Kent, into a devout family where she was eagerly awaited by her two older brothers,  Gordon and Bernard.   Her school days were spent in St Joseph’s Convent in Abbey Wood where she made her first contact with the Daughters of Jesus.  Already at school, she showed her qualities of caring for others and a positive and party-loving disposition which inevitably led her and her friends into as much mischief as it did into her studies. However, it made for an enjoyable school life and she left well equipped for a good career.


But Katy had other ideas and asked to join the St Joseph’s community in 1945 to become a Sister.  Because of the war, she was unable to travel to the Mother House in Brittany to begin her formation but joined the five or six other young girls in the community who were at different stages of the formation programme.  Normally this time of instruction, prayer, reflection and learning to live in community, would take place in an atmosphere of calm and quiet, but day and night interruptions to dash to air-raid shelters were also part of the formation in those days, and rules were sensibly relaxed to ease any extra stress on the girls, who, like the Sisters and others, were frightened and anxious for their families and friends.


The two years of formation passed and Kathleen and her companions took their vows in the chapel of St Joseph’s with as much joy and celebration as was possible in the wartime circumstances.  After the ceremony, Sister Katy remained in St Joseph’s to complete her college studies and begin her teaching career.


In 1949 she joined the Colne community and taught in the Parish Primary school in Derby St. Here she extended her skills and energy into organising children’s and adult groups in the parish and visiting families where she always had a care for the needier.  Her cheerful personality and practical approach suited the area where the community was much appreciated.


After 15 years of happy service in the North, Katy was asked to be part of St Stephen’s primary school in Welling, Kent, until 1970 when a new primary school in Mill End, Rickmansworth, called on Sr Katy’s experience and ability to be the new Headmistress.  Here again, her devotedness extended well beyond the office and classroom – initiating new methods and new practical subjects including gardening.  


Her reputation soon led to her inclusion in the executive of the National Association of Head Teachers.  Here,  she was a regular organiser of parties for the group, in the lovely community house and garden of Brook House.  Her cooking and hospitality skills were always appreciated by guests, even if at times she had to pop out to the nearby bar to pick up a bottle of wine!  This she did discreetly by taking the little boat at the bottom of the garden and rowing the short distance of a couple of doors away!


Besides these teaching and extracurricular activities, Katy was a hard-working and generous member of the community – cooking, gardening, and always willing to take visitors for days out.  On her retirement in 1985, she was appointed by the Bishop as Religious Advisor to the Primary schools in Hertfordshire.  She continued this mission from the Princes Risborough community until 1988 when she moved to the community in Westgate-on-Sea as Sister-in-Charge.  Here she added to her pastoral activities by joining various groups within the local area and churches, including the migrants, and a group for “battered” women.


In 2020 Katy’s frailty caught up with her and she was obliged to retire and move into care with the Ursuline sisters where she settled with her usual good humour, ease of relationships, and gratitude for all that was done for her.  Thanksgiving was a major aspect of these later years in Katy’s life.  Her deep faith and generous and self-giving life had led her to see good all around her and be grateful for all she had received. 


When the time came for a further move to St Michael’s Care, she took it in her stride with the same positive spirit she had shown throughout her life.  “Everyone is so good to me – what more could I want?” was her reply to the question,  “How are you?”


There were perhaps two other things she’d have liked:  Were there any young girls joining the community as Daughters of Jesus, and was there a glass of wine or something to drink going?   She had a code with the family that her “perfume bottle” was getting low  — this interpreted meant that the malt whisky bottle needed re-filling!


We raise a glass in thanksgiving for you, Katy.


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