OBITUARY: Anglican nun Anna Hoare was major advocate of integrated schooling

Sister Anna Hoare
Sister Anna Hoare

Sister Anna Hoare was an intensely-religious Englishwoman who worked hard to try and bridge the Province’s sectarian divide.

A member of the Oxford-based Anglican order known as Sisters of the Love of God, she died last month aged 97.

Born Nancy Rosamund Hoare on May 31, 1917, her order described her birthplace only as “a village near Bath”.

She was educated at Downe House – a girls’ boarding school in Berkshire, which had previously been based in Charles Darwin’s former home.

She travelled to Paris to pursue music, but her true calling was a spiritual one and she went on to study theology at Oxford University from 1940 to 1943.

She later took monastic vows, and in 1971 was asked to go to Belfast on behalf of the sisters.

Once there, she became involved with the group All Children Together (ACT).

Fellow member Bill Brown recalled that the movement began when parents of Catholic children who were attending a non-Catholic school were being “harassed” by a bishop, who refused them confession over their choice of school.

ACT had initially planned to create “shared Christian schools”, but when they failed to win church support it was decided they would set up an integrated school alone.

It was Lagan College, and sister Hoare sat on the management committee.

Retired Presbyterian minister Rev Brown said: “She was also involved in a project taking children away on holidays and out of the most difficult areas. [But] the main thing for us was she raised a lot of cash for ACT.”

She spent time as a fundraiser in Monte Carlo and elsewhere on the continent, and spoke languages including Greek and German.

“You had to know her to understand how remarkable she was,” added Rev Brown.

He said she had lived in the republican Falls area of west Belfast for a time, and was also based on Alliance Avenue in the city’s volatile north.

An edition of the Episcopalian News in 1983 quoted her as saying: “I don’t have a normal calling. I was called to be a monastic pilgrim, which means to travel anywhere on the surface of the globe without money, doing whatever providence gives me to do.”

Various articles about her through the decades mention tribulations such as being showered with bottles by Protestant children who mistook her for a Catholic, and being confronted by armed robbers claiming to be from the UVF, who wanted to take her moped. It was also said she used to pick up shrapnel from republican streets, which had been set there to pierce Army convoys’ tyres.

In December 1992 it was announced she was to be granted an MBE in the New Years’ Honours list,“for services to the community in Northern Ireland”.

She began losing her sight and left the city for England in 2003, where she stayed with the Sisters of the Love of God and later the Middletown Grange nursing home in Witney. It was there that she died on January 18, of what her order said was simply old age.

Probably the last piece to appear about her was written by a member of Focolare, a Roman Catholic-based cross-community group in Belfast with which she had been involved.

It was penned after a visit to her in November, when she was totally blind and losing her faculties.

Asked where she came from, she had replied: “Of course I am English, but my heart is in God.”

Her funeral was on February 19 at St Mary’s church in Witney, Oxfordshire.

She was cremated and her ashes interred in a family grave.

She is survived by nephews Stephen and Neil, and nieces Juliet Grayson and Phyllida McCormick.