Hazel McCann (1933-2015)
Hazel McCann (1933-2015)
Many in Faith knew Hazel McCann, who died in March. A committed supporter of the movement for many years, she helped run the Folkestone youth group and was sacristan at Faith summer sessions.
Born on the 27 October 1933 in London, Hazel was the only child of her devoted parents, Nata (Julie) and Ronald Curtis. Remarkably, in view of her later ministry at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Folkestone, they had married on 24 May, the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. Although not particularly religious, her parents had her baptised in 1934, on 22 July, the feast of St Mary Magdalen.
Evacuated from London as soon as war broke out in 1939, Hazel had various homes as an evacuee. The turning point in her life came when she was sent to school at St Gilda’s convent in Chard, Somerset, run by the Sisters of Christian Instruction (the St Gilda’s sisters). Here she discovered Jesus Christ and his Church. She could see the tabernacle lamp burning in the church from her dorm; her lifelong love of Jesus in the Eucharist had begun. After some negotiations with her parents she was received into the church as a teenager and there began a life of dedication to Our Lord.
Returning to London, she completed sixth-form studies at Coloma Convent, Croydon, and after a brief stint in an office trained to be a teacher, commencing a lifelong ministry to young people. She completed a degree in English at King’s College London as a mature student, and then returned to teaching. She met her husband, Jim McCann, also a teacher, and they were married in 1969. Marrying late in life they were surprised and overjoyed by the arrival of two children in quick succession: Christina Jane in 1970 and Madeleine Louise in 1971. A new stage of devoted motherhood began, where all her commitment, creativity, religious and educational experience combined in creating a loving family home with a distinctly Christian ethos. From carefully chosen prayer books and collecting flowers to put in front of statues, to trips to Aylesford Priory and quiet early morning Masses on holiday, the love of God was woven into the fabric of their everyday lives.
Another turning point came in 1979 when the family moved to Folkestone into the parish of Our Lady Help of Christians and became involved in parish life. In 1984, Fr Roger Nesbitt was appointed parish priest and a deep friendship and fruitful co-operation began. Fr Nesbitt started a youth ministry which benefited many, including Hazel’s children.
As the children grew up, her work in the parish developed. Always ready to help with practical tasks like cleaning, sorting and arranging, she also took on increasing responsibility for the youth group and the catechesis of children and young people. Her gifts and experience were particularly valuable in the youth ministry and in parish catechesis, work to which she became dedicated. She also brought communion to the sick and housebound, a work which was very important to her, and took on the role of parish sacristan, a welcoming face for crowds of altar servers (and their younger siblings, the “pre-servers” who were allowed to help clear the sanctuary after Mass!). All this work brought her into contact with many people at both the centre and the fringes of parish life, and through it she exercised her characteristic gift for friendship – becoming for some like a sister or mother. The best of mothers to her children, she also quietly lived out a Marian vocation of spiritual motherhood.
Through Fr Nesbitt she came into contact with the theology of Edward Holloway and the work of the Faith movement, becoming a committed supporter, practically and spiritually. She befriended and encouraged many of its members, acting as sacristan at the Summer Session (and in pre-Woldingham days preparing vestments, cottas and even a portable tabernacle!) For years she also helped proofread this magazine.
Hazel was practical, hard-working, and unassuming. Her work flowed from an unshakeable faith, a contagious fire that once lit in childhood never went out. Sustained by prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament and in the Divine Office of the Church, and by the sacramental life, she was immersed in theology, particularly spiritual and mystical theology; she also retained her love of literature.
The late 1990s and early 2000s brought significant change: the arrival of grandchildren, Madeleine’s entrance into religious life and Jim’s death from pancreatic cancer. A deep friendship developed with Madeleine’s new family, the sisters at St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. Despite deteriorating osteoarthritis, much of her work at church went on and she continued to work as a sacristan until she fell seriously ill in early 2012. Although she made a full recovery from this illness, she was no longer able to walk and moved into a residential care home, just outside Folkestone.
In the spring of 2013 a room became available at Villa Maria, run by the Marist Sisters in Hythe, Kent. Here, though no longer even able to stand, she benefited from being part of the spiritual community, attending Mass and prayers in the chapel in a wheelchair. She celebrated a fantastic 80th birthday here with close friends and family. She retained all her other faculties, never complained, and remained a strong and independent spirit, right until the last.
Her final illness was sudden and brief. Admitted to hospital in the early hours of 3 March, she was anointed that evening. She died peacefully the following afternoon, one daughter praying at her bedside, the other praying at St Cecilia’s Abbey. Her funeral was at Our Lady Help of Christians Church on 27 March and she was interred next to her mother in the churchyard of St Mary and St Eanswythe (a local Folkestone saint to whom Hazel had devotion), on a site where Christian worship has been offered since AD 630.
Deo Gratias! May she rest in peace.