Sr Mary Charles Walker was a Sister of Charity with a true missionary spirit. During her life she lived and worked in both Zambia and Nigeria.
When she was in Nigeria she felt that an indigenous congregation should be started. Her desire was fulfilled when four of the young women she taught in St. Joseph’s Convent School, Calabar, expressed the desire to become religious sisters.
This was the beginning of the congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus (H.H.C.J). Here, Sr Alice Maguire recounts her memories of Sr Mary Charles when she lived with her in Zambia:
“I first met Sister Mary Charles in Chikuni in 1957, when I joined the community there. I subsequently lived with her for the next six years until I was transferred to Namwala in 1963.
Sister Mary Charles had two ministries: care of the Handmaid Sisters, and the making of the Communion hosts. She made the hosts in the little storeroom opposite the kitchen. My ministry was that of housekeeper, which entailed cooking for the Sisters.
Sister Mary Charles was slightly built, 5ft exactly in height, and never carried any weight. She was very straight, aware of her own dignity. She was a lady, never shouted, but when she was annoyed, you would know. She had a nice way of saying things. She was kind, and generally very serious, although she did have a good sense of humour.
She had great devotion to her morning reading, which she often read walking. She would share spontaneously what she had read, with book in hand – always shared the quotation exactly. Sister had great devotion to the Great St Teresa.
Sister Mary Charles had a great love for animals, especially Danny the cat and later, Demetria, the kitten. She also loved the little Dyker, Bambi, which was bought for ‘half a crown’. The little Dyker lived in the chicken run, but was often out and about, frequently accompanying Sister Mary Charles, in the store room, eating the clippings from the hosts. Sometimes Bambi would take a little nip out of Mary Charles’ leg, which she would enjoy!!!
The Handmaid Sisters were a very young Congregation at the time. Sister Mary Charles’ taught and trained them. One of the recollections that I have is about the shoes. My job was to collect any shoes which needed to be repaired, and to take them to the cobbler, a man in the compound. On this occasion, I collected Sister Charles’ shoes which had been put vey neatly outside the storeroom. I took them to the cobbler, and after repair, they were returned to their owner. A very few days later, an identical pair of shoes appeared outside the storeroom. I asked Sister Charles, ‘Sister, didn’t I take these shoes for repair very recently?’ This second pair was identical to the first. You see, this was exactly how she was – very even in everything – even to the wearing down of the shoes…
I was in Namwala when she died, and she had been buried by the time we heard. Generally, messages were delivered by bus, wrapped in a newspaper. The bus would stop at the gate, hoot, and one of us would go out to collect the message. I cried when I heard because I felt close to her. I can see her clearly now, as though I am looking at her photograph….”