Edith Mary Mellish parents were Edward and Ellen Mellish. Her father was a banker and businessman in Australia and then in Mauritius from 1859. Later he was stationed in China and England, where Edith attended a boarding school. Edith’s mother died when she was two, and Edward’s second wife, Sarah Waterworth, had been a CMS missionary. She encouraged Edith’s religious development, and Edith wanted to be a missionary. As the oldest child, Edith took on the responsibilities of helping with the children of her father’s second and third marriages. Only when the children were old enough could she follow her own plans. First of all she undertook some parish work. Then, seeking training, she joined the Deaconess Community of St Andrew, London, in 1881 and became a deaconess in 1891.
She was chosen from there, to answer the call of Bishop Churchill Julius of Christchurch for a sister to work in his diocese. She arrived in Christchurch in 1893 to find a small group of dedicated probationer deaconesses ready to form a community. The members of the community were heavily involved in ministry to women in Christchurch they worked with unmarried women, cared for orphans, taught, did church embroidery, visited hospitals and prisons, as well as developing community life.
Things were far from easy for these women, and the community grew slowly under difficult circumstances. The original name of the community was “The Sisters of Bethany”, a name chosen by Sister Edith. In 1911 the name was changed to “The Community of the Sacred Name”, and Sister Edith became Mother Edith.
The emphasis gradually shifted from deaconesses to the religious life of prayer and the conduct of quiet days and retreats. Mother Edith maintained that the root of the religious life is the worship and service of God in prayer, meditation and self-sacrifice she took great trouble over the structure and pattern of the order setting it along the lines of a traditional religious community.
Mother Edith had not enjoyed good health, and in 1915 she travelled to England to take a complete break and to see her family. She also took the opportunity to note developments in women’s religious orders in Britain. She put some of these into practice after her return in 1916 in her revision of the rule of the order and of the statutes governing it.
Mother Edith’s outstanding characteristics were generosity, compassion, humility, fearlessness, and a loving concern for all. For her nothing was too difficult. She had a capacity for work that was unbounded, she was a great multi-tasker and under her leadership the community grew. The “Anglican Nuns” won wide admiration for their work. Mother Edith had some very strong and definite views about the position of women in the world and in the church. She could blaze out at injustice or contempt shown to girls or women, especially the weak and defenceless.
BORN: 10 March 1861, Island of Mauritius
DIED: 25 May 1922, Christchurch, New Zealand