Sister Françoise Georgeault
*23rd December 1925
+23rd September 2021
Sister Françoise Elisabeth Thérèse Georgeault was born on 23rd December 1925 in Pont l’Evêque, Calvados, France, the last in a family of 5 girls. She was baptised on Christmas Day, though the Solemn Ceremony took place only in the following July.
As a child she went first to the local Catholic school and, from 1935 until 1944, was a boarder in the Convent of the Canonesses of St Augustine at Honfleur. Sr Françoise has left us a wonderfully detailed personal account of her earliest memories of life in Normandy before the Second World War, followed by a unique account of the War as, she puts it, “seen through the eyes of a child”. She contrasts the quiet, peaceful Normandy countryside, its fields, apple trees, sheep and cows, and its famous beaches, with what followed when, in 1940, the invading German armies arrived taking over even the small town of Pont l’Evêque. Actually, Françoise was 15 when the war reached Normandy and 20 when it ended in June 1945, which explains the considerable historical interest of such an account.
Françoise describes her war experiences in a characteristically dispassionate way, although one can sense the constant fear she and her family lived with during that time. A few examples: the 3 day total blackout when the petrol reserves in Le Havre were set on fire to prevent them getting into enemy hands; the constant moving to try to avoid the bombing, starting with an attempt to reach her grandmother in Brittany with an immediate return to Pont l’Evêque before it was cut off; the severe rationing and the ways the farmers secretly supplied them with fresh eggs, butter and cream as well as the occasional meat; how they secretly listened to “Ici Londres” on the BBC and eventually had to hide their transistor in the loft; the terror of sudden visits from fully armed German Officers; people they knew being arrested and sent to German Camps, including a friend of theirs who was a doctor; the constant bombing, almost an over-riding theme. By May 1944 the school in Honfleur, which suffered many nightly air raids, closed because it was too dangerous for the Sisters to keep the girls safe. The climax came when after the night of the 6th June, everyone guessed something important had happened as the bombing had become so intense. After the Normandy Landings the bombing continued non-stop and the people were also subjected to battles raging all around them, and trying to move to get out of the way. It was at this time that Françoise’s grandmother and Aunt were killed on the way to join some of the family. Her own family managed to join other members in the countryside. When they returned to Pont l’Evêque, they found their house had been completely destroyed. By 1952 it was rebuilt but in 1956 her parents moved to Le Cannet, near Cannes in the South of France, where Françoise later used to go on holiday.
After the war Françoise started her University Studies at Angers; but health problems prevented the completion of her degree at that stage. Eventually she came to England and soon began teaching French at Moira House School in Eastbourne. Meanwhile she continued studying for her degree with the University of Lille. She remained in Eastbourne for 8 years, becoming Head of the French Department at the school.
Her previous knowledge of our Congregation in France led her to join the English Novitiate at Westgate-on-Sea in 1963. Her apostolic year was spent at Lady Margaret House in Cambridge and, after returning to Westgate to complete her Novitiate, Françoise went back to Cambridge to complete a Diploma in English and the Westminster Theology Diploma. After a short spell there as Sister in Charge, Françoise came to St Leonards in 1973 where she was Headmistress of the School until December 1986.
Many changes occurred during those years, including the acquisition in 1977 of Number 118, Filsham Road, now known as Alix Lodge. The VIth form pupils moved in there and Sr Françoise lived with them, building up a unique relationship with the older girls which they much appreciated. She greatly valued her work with young people, thereby building firm relationships, guiding them into adult life. She often organised trips abroad where her gift for languages was invaluable. Her interest in Russian and Italian developed at that time. She was still studying them up to a few weeks before her death!
In January 1987 Sr Françoise moved to London to become Warden at More House, a post that she held until 2010. Once more she was in her element, working amongst University Students from all over the World. Sr Françoise was a lovely person to live with in community. She was always happy, even-tempered and interested in everything. She had a beautiful voice and loved singing. She particularly enjoyed music, good liturgy and the yearly Proms in the Albert Hall. She was very active in the local area, being part of the Cromwell Road Residents Association and she initiated the regular meetings of the Wardens of the nearby Hostels, which continue to this day. She had very good relationships with all the Staff and the Contractors who regularly came to the house.
Nothing phased Françoise. Crises in an old building like ours never seemed to bother her. We remember the day when there was extremely heavy rain and the outside pipe was so blocked the water was flowing back into the Community Room. We found her, just back from her Italian class, sitting in the middle of all the buckets, seemingly unaware of the chaos around her, quite happily eating her supper and watching TV. At the age of 86, she thought nothing, of climbing a long ladder up to a fuse board to fix a trip switch telling the young men, standing all around eager to help, that they weren’t insured to use the ladder!
It is not difficult to imagine how much Sr Françoise was loved by all the Students in More House. She was there for them, and they knew it. She used to have breakfast with them and they risked being late for college as they listened to her stories! She also went to their parties and, when dressing-up was required, she would arrive in some very original guise. She was game for everything; she never really retired!
Students from all over the world have contacted each other on social media and we have received lovely messages of condolence and descriptions of who Françoise was to so many from the distant past to the very last years of More House. One student wrote: “The outpouring of love I have seen on social media for Sr Françoise, even from afar, has been incredibly moving”. Another quote, “I always think of her as sunshine, humour and stories”.
In August 2018 Françoise moved back to St Leonards, joining the Community in Filsham Lodge. She enjoyed having more time to continue her studies in foreign languages, interspersed with walks down to the sea or around our garden. A fall in late December 2020 ended with her transfer to Alix Lodge where she could be given the nursing care needed. A few months later, cancer was diagnosed. She faced this news bravely and indeed cheerfully, and in the last weeks, awaited her heavenly call with serenity, and a certain impatience. That call came on 23rd September after she was anointed and finally blessed.
May she rest in Peace.
Sr Gabriel Robin