Remembering Sister Dorothy Bell RSCJ OBE (1924-2019)

Sister Dorothy Bell RSCJ, who died earlier this month, devoted the majority of her long and remarkable life to education. Her connection with Woldingham School was also of great duration: she joined the school, when still based in Roehampton, in 1935; taught at Woldingham from 1955 to 1966; was the school’s first Chair of Governors, from 1985 to 1988, and regularly attended Old Girls’ Day over the subsequent decades.  Many Woldingham alumnae and staff attended a Requiem Mass for her in the Digby Stuart College Chapel last week and, just a couple of days later, her life was also celebrated on Radio Four’s Last Word.

Born in London in 1924, Dorothy attended the City of London School for Girls before becoming a boarder – and later, Head Girl – at the Sacred Heart School in Roehampton (now Woldingham).  Aged 17, she accompanied her parents to India, where her barrister father was to become a judge, and in 1943 took a job as a secretary in the British Embassy in Chongqing in the south western province of Sichuan, China.

By the end of the war, Dorothy was feeling strongly called to religious life and, after returning to England in 1945 and spending a year teaching at a Roman Catholic school in Tunbridge Wells, she entered the novitiate in the Society of the Sacred Heart, making her final profession six years later, in Rome.

After reading geography at St Anne’s College, Oxford, Dorothy took a postgraduate teaching qualification at the Society’s Fenham College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, following which she joined the staff of Woldingham in 1955.  She spent the following decade here, teaching Geography and also holding the post of Mistress of Studies.

In 1967 Sister Dorothy moved to Digby Stuart College, the Society of the Sacred Heart’s teacher training centre in Roehampton, to lecture in geography, before taking over as Principal in 1968.  In 1985, whilst still Principal of Digby Stuart College, she became Woldingham’s first Chair of Governors, overseeing the school’s transition to lay management under the trusteeship of the Society of the Sacred Heart.

Her ‘retirement’ in 1989 saw Sister Dorothy remain as active as ever: she was the Diocesan AIDS Co-ordinator for Southwark, and also served as a governor of several schools and Sixth Form colleges, and of Heythrop College. In 1999 she was awarded the OBE for her services to education and, aged 82, she became a member of the Westminster Diocesan Education Board.

In more recent years, Sister Dorothy scaled back her commitments, though she still kept in close contact with her former colleagues, and took a keen interest in whatever was happening, in education and the wider world.