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Our lovely Sister Philomena is recognised by the Queen

Saint Francis Hospice couldn't be prouder of our volunteer chaplain Sister Philomena Purcell who has been recognised by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II for her work as a Chaplain with HMP Chelmsford.  She has been awarded The British Empire Medal (Civil Division).

Sister Philomena with Sir Trevor Brooking at the hospice (cropped)

Sister Philomena is the middle child of a family of 17 children from Mullinavatt, Co Kilkenny; she came to England as a teenager in the 1950's where she joined the Ursuline Convent in Brentwood, Essex.


She trained as a teacher, working in schools in Elm Park and Dagenham.  She retired in 2001 but decided that she wasn't ready for a quiet life just yet and joined the chaplaincy service in HMP Chelmsford in 2002 where she is now affectionately known as 'Sister P'.


Sister Philomena is the type of woman who wins your heart as soon as you meet her she is full of fun and kindness. Through her work with patients at the hospice, she connects with those who are dealing with life limiting diagnosis; she supports them and their families.  Philomena's gift is her ability to connect with people of all ages from all walks of life.

Sr Philomnena fancy dress with medal


Sister Philomena volunteers at the hospice every Wednesday, her day off at the prison as she enjoys the change of pace. So committed is she to the care and wellbeing of others that she has provided chaplaincy services at the prison every Christmas day for the last 15 years.  She says "this can be a difficult day for the men and I am grateful that I have the support of my Ursuline community when I return home."


She says "the most rewarding part of my job is the people I meet, I see them through highs and lows and I get to accompany them on their good days and bad days.


Sometimes I get to tell them good news, like the birth of a child or I may have to deliver bad news like the death of a loved one."


Earlier this year Philomena received the High Sherriff's award for Lifetime Achievement, having previously received the award 10 years previously for her work on 'Fathers inside' a training programme helping prisoners to become better fathers.


The Governing Governor said "Sister Philomena (Sister P) is the longest serving member of the chaplaincy team at HMP Chelmsford, and continues to offer exceptional service to both staff, prisoners and the community at the age of 77 with an enthusiasm and energy which is seldom seen in people thirty years her younger.

 Sr Philomnena fancy dress with medal"Sister P is an extraordinary woman and has always had a knack of knowing when perhaps I have been distracted or slightly low in mood. She regularly sends me positive emails and cards whenever I have done anything of a positive nature for staff or prisoners, she has natural gift for raising people's spirits and uses this for the benefit of all but especially those groups who traditionally are isolated.


"Sister P is a great advocate for all the prisoners of all religions and none. Chelmsford prisoners have a great respect and love for her."


Sister Philomena knew she was nominated for the award in September 2017 but she has been sworn to secrecy until now. 

Fittingly her medal was presented to her at this week during the Prison Carol Service.  She received the medal from Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst DL, Lord-Lieutenant of Essex assisted by the High Sherriff of Essex, Mr Simon Hall MBE with the citation being read out by Lady Rosemary Ruggles-Brise,


When asked how the prisoners reacted to her award she said "they clapped and clapped.  I told them that I accepted it on their behalf and not to worry that I would be keeping it real."."