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Sister Mary Felicitas Bradley

Educator and Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

Born: July 12, 1918; Died: January 11, 2014

SISTER Mary Felicitas Bradley, who has died aged 95, was for almost a quarter of a century the inspirational head teacher at Our Lady and St Francis Secondary School in Glasgow. She later went on to become the leader of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the only Catholic religious order to be founded in Scotland.

She died less than a week after celebrating a remarkable 75 years as a nun. Although formally retired, she had continued to work tirelessly within her local community on the South Side of Glasgow, tending to the poor and the sick.

However, she will be remembered best for the many years she spent at the all-girl Our Lady and St Francis Secondary, better known as Charlotte Street school. As first an English teacher and then its headteacher, she helped create a truly outstanding school which provided exceptional educational opportunities to generations of young women many of whom came from poor and disadvantaged families.

Situated in the East End of the city, close to Glasgow Green, the school taught as many as 1000 girls at any given time. Sister Felicitas knew every one of them by name.

A talented teacher and perceptive leader, she successfully managed the school's seamless transition to co-educational status. Charlotte Street closed its doors in 1989 following its merger with St Mungo's Academy, an all-boys secondary situated nearby.

Margaret McGowan Bradley was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire. Her mother was a teacher and her father a local journalist. She was taught at St Mary's Primary, Hamilton, and then Elmwood Secondary in Bothwell, both schools run by the Franciscan order she was destined to join.

She entered the convent in 1936 straight from school and made her first confession in 1939. Now Sister Felicitas, she studied English and history at Glasgow University, graduating in 1943. After a year's teacher-training at Notre Dame, she became an English teacher at Our Lady and St Francis.

Apart from a brief period at the end of the Second World War (when she had to move temporarily to St Mungo's Primary to make way for male teachers who had been demobbed and returned to their jobs at Charlotte Street) she spent the next 35 years there.

She was 38 when she was appointed head teacher in 1956, replacing the formidable Mother Philippa who had taken over as Mother Abbess of the Glasgow-based religious order.

Under her leadership, the school acquired a reputation for academic achievement. Sister Felicitas demanded the very best from her girls. She knew every one of them, knew what each of them was capable of achieving, and helped them reach their goals and realise their ambitions.

Though a disciplinarian, she was also compassionate. If anyone - whether it be a teacher or a pupil - found themselves in trouble or difficulty, she would go to great lengths to help them.

When she resigned her post in 1980, she was one of the most respected and influential educators in Glasgow and was awarded the OBE for services to education and the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the Catholic Church's Cross of Honour.

Now in her 60s, Sister Felicitas was ready to follow in her predecessor's footsteps and become head of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She was elected Superior General (the new title for Mother Abbess), serving two six-year terms in the post.

She took up the job at a time when the religious order was expanding. It had taken its mission well beyond Scotland with projects and houses in England, Ireland, the US and Nigeria. As Superior General, she established the order's first mission in Kenya, starting a major project to combat AIDS and HIV. One of the great sadnesses of her life was when two Scots-born Franciscan sisters were killed in a road accident in Kenya. The tragedy prompted the order to re-think its plans and, had it not been for the insistence of a third sister who had survived the accident, the mission would have been abandoned.

The overseas missions meant a lot to Sister Felicitas and, after her retirement in 1992, she went out to Nigeria to work alongside her fellow sisters.

Back in Glasgow, she settled in a house which the Order ran in Dixon Avenue. She fashioned the property into a house of prayer. Every day, whatever the weather, she walked the streets of Govanhill and Crosshill, visiting the sick and giving them communion. She often said this was one of the most fulfilling periods of her life.

In recent months her own sister, a retired teacher, had fallen ill and Sister Felicitas had been travelling regularly to see her at her home in Kirkcudbright.

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