WOMEN have long fulfilled vital roles in Christianity, despite contrary claims from some quarters.
Their role in religious life, teaching, nursing, hospital visiting and caring for sick, elderly and poor people is commemorated by the dilapidated ruins of a once-vibrant missionary college in rural Renfrewshire.
I told previously how St Joseph’s, near Lochwinnoch, was used by the Mill Hill Fathers between 1935 and 1985 to train priests for mission work in Africa and Asia.
Known originally as Garthland House, the mansion was once owned by the wealthy Macdowall family.
The college included a three-storey dormitory block and red-bricked chapel adorned with stained-glass windows, black and pink marble altar pieces, mosaic panels, wooden pews, confessional box, statues and crucifixes.
Less well-known is that the college accommodated nuns of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph Order.
After vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, these brave women trained for pastoral and educational missionary work in Africa.
They risked their lives there because that continent was in political turmoil as the colonial era ended and war, famine and disease were rife.
Like the Mill Hill Fathers, the Sisters were inspired by a huge stone sculpture on the exterior chapel wall.
This depicted Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, carrying a wooden beam with one hand and a hammer in the other.
The effigy reminded acolyte missionaries that their divine destiny was to build hospitals, schools and orphanages with wood, hammers and faith in foreign fields.
First Superior at St Joseph’s was Mother Mary Eucharia, Vicaress General of the Franciscan Missionaries.
She was a rock of spiritual support for women who left families, friends and homes to walk down the tree-lined avenue between the college and main road bus stop to embark on their life’s vocation.
Behind St Joseph’s was the nun’s cemetery, where holy women were buried at the end of their earthly pilgrimages.
A stone cross on the college roof loomed above the sepulchres like a silent sentinel.
When St Joseph’s closed, coffins were exhumed and reburied in consecrated ground elsewhere.
During a recent visit, I found the graveyard wreathed with green-leaved, lilac-blossomed rhododendrons.
A yellow buck-eye chestnut tree, with cascading chains of golden flowers, arched over the sylvan sanctuary.
It seemed Mother Nature was weaving floral tributes for these faithful Brides of Christ and betrothed handmaidens of the Church, whose spiritual sojourn started at St Joseph’s.