Changes in society echoed in the life of this religious

Sr Sybil Boddington SND, 1919 – 2012

by Fiona Boddington and Clare Barfoot

Sybil Boddington was born in Blackpool on 20 September 1919 to James and Violet Boddington but grew up mostly in Buxton, where they moved in 1924 and where her father became Spa Director. It was by all accounts a happy childhood, and she and her younger siblings, Diana and Tony, were close.

She attended Birkdale Notre Dame boarding school until she was 16 and wanted very much to be an actress. This love of drama was fostered by trips, several times a week, to the cinema - for which her father received concessionary tickets - and by Lillian Bayliss lodging with the family when her theatrical company was in town.

Not being allowed to become an actress, she chose, to the consternation of her family, to enter the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Indeed, her sister, Diana Boddington MBE, used to say that she was only allowed to work in the theatre because of parental fears of her following the example set by Sybil.

Diana eventually became Stage Manager at the Old Vic and was with Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre from its inception until her retirement. She was the first person in stage management to receive an MBE. The sisters remained close despite their divergent lifestyles and were enormously proud of one another.

So Sybil, in 1937, at the age of 18, entered the Order in the full knowledge that she might not see her beloved family again. She took the name of Sister Therese of the Passion and by 1940 was in Mount Pleasant in Liverpool training to be a teacher.

During that time they were bombed out of the convent and moved temporarily to North Wales. In 1944 she did an art course but was prohibited from attending the life drawing classes - though she was later allowed to study "the naked form in Greek sculpture"...

When the Order came out of the Habit in the late sixties, Sybil embraced the greater freedom this gave her. She intensely disliked the ‘making a show of oneself’ that she felt wearing a habit was and preferred to appear just like anyone else.

She also loved the new opportunity to get to know her numerous family and to travel. Back in 1937 she could not have envisaged that her world would alter to such an extent, but to the end of her life she was not afraid to embrace change, and whilst outwardly quietly conservative, always accepting of the obedience due to her Order and the Church, she privately supported the cause of married and women priests.

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Obituary in the Guardian:

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