"ET DIXI NUNC COEPI"Sister Alphonsus Lagrue OP
I was born in 1934, the youngest of six brothers and sisters, to Catholic parents, in the parish of the Annunciation in Burnt Oak, Middlesex – a suburb of London. In 1939, at four years old I entered the Dominican School of the Annunciation. The first Sister, who was very kind to me, a shy child, was Sr Imelda O’Connell who helped me to get more at ease at school. I remained at the Annunciation School until I was ten years old. During these years I had no idea of wanting to become a sister – quite the contrary. It was something I did not want to do.
Just before I was eleven years old, I transferred, with my class to the Secondary School, St James’, which was nearer to my home than the Annunciation School. The Seadteacher was Sister Catherine Walsh, an educationist far ahead of her time in her views on the importance of education for every child. By my thirteenth birthday, I still was not attracted to religious life, but I had begun to think that perhaps this was what God wanted for me. My favourite teachers were Sr Bertranda Fitzgibbon and Sr Rose Lynch, both excellent teachers, and then once again, for a year I was taught by Sr Imelda.
I left St James’ in 1952, but since my family had had its financial resources stretched that year, since my eldest sister married, and the eldest of my family was ordained priest, I decided to go to work, at first in a local shop and then as an uncertificated teacher in a local primary school. At the end of the year, still thinking this was what God wanted of me, I entered the Novitiate at Rosary Priory in September 1953.
The following year was a very unsettling year for me. Neither I nor the Sisters were sure that I was in the right place and in July 1954 I returned to my home in Harrow Weald. I still was attracted to the idea of becoming a sister and wanted to return as soon as possible. Instead, I was advised to follow a teacher training course which at that time was for two years. This was possible through the help of Sr Catherine and Mother Isobel of the Assumptionists at Maria Assumpta Training College, in Kensington Square, London. I studied theology there with Mother Dominic.
During these two years I continued to be attracted to the religious life, and at times considered other congregations. But I had never forgotten my first experience of hearing the Dominican sisters singing the Office on my first night in the convent in September 1953. And so it was that when I finished my college course, once again I asked Mother John Lovely to take me back to Rosary Priory. Her reply was that I should teach for a year. I was taken on as a teacher at Holy Rood School, Watford. Keeping this idea of becoming a Dominican very much in my mind, I wrote again to Mother John, who accepted me back in July 1957. She told me that if I were still there, she would give me the habit in February 1958. With Mother Dominic Barnett who had guided me in my first year at the Priory, and for some months after my second entry, I settled down and received the habit on 3 February 1958.
At first all went well for me, but after Profession in 1959, doubts and uncertainty returned, and life became more difficult for me as I approached the time of Final Profession. I really believed that once I made Final Vows, I could be sure that I had a vocation and that it would be there until my death. The day before my Final Profession was due, still struggling within myself I went to see Mother Baptist who was our superior. She told me that she couldn’t assure me that I had vocation, but that she saw signs of a true vocation in me.
The next day, 4 February 1962, I pronounced Final Vows in the presence of the community, my parents and family. Inside the ring which I received on that occasion the following words were engraved ET DIXI NUNC COEPI that is “I have said, ‘now I have begun’.”
Now, 60 years after my First Profession 1959, these words continue to be my inspiration.
Sister Alphonsus celebrated the Diamond Jubilee (60 years) of her Religious Profession in 2019.