By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Sr. Christopher Ruth Angell CJ has died at 106 years of age. She died on 28 July 2023 at St. Ignatius, Chishawasha where she was being taken care of since 2018. Her remains were on 31 July 2023, interred at Chishawasha cemetery next to the grave of her colleague, St. Thoma von Dahl CJ.
Born in England in 1916, Sr. Christopher entered the convent in 1934 and started her novitiate on 8 September 1935. She then took her first vows on 8 September 1937, and in October of the same year she began University studies majoring in science. Sr. Christopher started her teaching career in 1940 soon after completing her degree at Reading University. She came to Zimbabwe already as a retired Sister in 1972 after she has been working for 32 years as a teacher and headmistress in Cambridge. The late Sr. Christopher was characterized as “a woman of two lives” after having lived for 56 years in the Northern hemisphere and almost the same years in the Southern hemisphere.
When she came to Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, together with Sr. Joana, she did not rest, but started serving in many capacities as a teacher, librarian and formator.
Speaker after speaker at her funeral described Sr. Christopher as a great woman, full of optimism, a great teacher, a faithful Christian and most competent scientist.
In his homily, Fr. David Harold Barry SJ, said Sr. Christopher was a teacher, a formator and a librarian who toiled very hard to educate and support the Maryward Sisters in their different needs.
“We know how much devotion she brought to all the three tasks and how much she longed to share the treasure she had found with others. We know that she was a gifted teacher from the words of her students. We know that she was a kind and a thorough formator who desired to pass on the spirit of Maryward. But it is worth noting her passion in building libraries where ever she was,” said Fr. Barry SJ.
Fr. Barry emphasized that Sr. Christopher’s passion for building libraries was meant to empower sisters in spiritual and life giving aspects. According to Fr. Barry, the late Sr. Christorpher wanted the sisters to read and expand their horizons so that they keep up with the developments in the Church and in the world.
He said: “In an age when people are satisfied with brief messages and ‘sound bites’ in social media, we can honour her memory by paying attention to this aspect of her legacy.”
Many speakers confirmed that Sr. Christopher taught them to be grateful even in small things as she would appreciate even the smallest gestures shown by all visited her. “Thanks awfully,” was her everyday mantra as she exchanged a greeting with those who came to see her or whenever she received a gesture of love.
Fr. Barry SJ noted that Sr. Christopher’s gift to all people was how to grow old graciously, patiently and uncomplainingly.
A testimony of her good and exemplary work was also expressed through two of her former students, Sybil Leacock and Teresa de Bertodano’s eulogies as they bemoaned the loss.
“Sr. Christopher was a great woman, a faithful Christian and a most competent scientist. She had the gift of the great teacher. She could transmit her passions and inspire future generations. May she rest in peace,” wrote Teresa de Bertodano.
One of her former novices, Sr. Salome Mateko CJ, said Sr. Christopher’s life did not end with her death but continues as an inspiration of the many lives she has touched during her lifetime.
“Mbuya (grant mother) as we would call her, showed us an example of prayer, sacrifice and patience. She loved everyone and was always grateful,” Sr. Mateko said.
Her words were buttressed by the Congregatio Jesu Regional Superior, Sr. Maria Goretti Mudhovozi CJ who acclaimed the late Sr. Christopher as a prayerful person who dedicated her last years in prayer for the congregation.
“She was a woman of gratitude, humility and appreciative of everything done for her. We are celebrating a life well lived. She fulfilled the words of our foundress, “Cherish God’s vocation in you, let it be constant, efficacious and loving,” highlighted Sr. Mudhovozi.
Sr. Christopher did not give up on prayer until the time of her death. In 2021 she wrote:
“I am now spending most of my time in prayer. I find joy and consolation in my prayers. I am praying for good and strong vocations and for all the young ones to continue the work.”
Sr. Christopher did not only work as an excellent teacher and librarian but was an inspirational novice mistress who formed the first local Maryward Sisters when she was appointed to take up the task in 1975 up to 1987 when she became junior mistress. Her first products in the Congregatio Jesu are the likes of Sr. Hildegardis Chimhanda and Sr. Magna Maminimini.
In 1994, she went to Kwekwe where she was to spent the next 24 years devoting her time to teaching the novices, giving retreats and spiritual direction before she moved to Harare in 2018.