Eulogy given at Our Lady and St Illtyd’s, Llantwit Major, on 9 November 2015.
For me to be asked to give Vivien’s eulogy is rather like being asked to describe a precious stone when you have only had a good look at one face. There are some facets where you can see the edges just a little, and others which you can only see through the stone itself.
I first met Vivien at a conference in Carmarthen in 1995. Viv had recently stepped down from her role as Chair of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales, and was now leading their conference’s youth programme. I was 21 at the time, so I still counted as “Youth”, and in the months which followed, Vivien encouraged the young people to gather regularly for prayer and time together. As one of those young people, I first visited Llantwit Major and got to know Viv at home, as well as in church. The youth group petered out, but my friendship with Viv grew and lasted, through frequent overnight stays at Lane Cottage.
There are many facets of Viv’s life which I only know through those conversations with her. A horse called Harvey, who died two years ago – the last of a series of horses owned and cared for by Viv. Her elderly relatives, being cared for close to home. Her decades of work with the SVP, where she became Mid Glamorgan District President 2000-04. Her role as editor of the Llantwit Major & Cowbridge Parish Newsletter, which she produced faithfully for 25 years. And, of course, her early life.
Vivien was born in Hornsey in North London, and grew up in Barnet where she attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. She was clearly a powerful influence in her family, blowing all the pocket money for one holiday by splashing out on a fishing rod for her brother Geoffrey, while bamboozling sisters Natasha and Clare by giving them a pound and saying “Buy a 99 flake for me and get something for yourself” – what did the ice-cream van sell for a penny?
Vivien’s youth was marked by regular family holidays roaming across Europe, planting in her a love of continental camping. Before many British holidaymakers had discovered the continental trail, Viv could be found camping in a Greek resort where Cliff Richard has filmed Summer Holiday a few months earlier. Unsurprisingly, Vivien read Geography at Southampton University, becoming a teacher of Geography and Religious Education, and a noted author of school geography textbooks.
After a time spent teaching in Dublin, Vivien came to live in Llantwit Major in 1972. Here she became engaged to Michael in 1993 and enjoyed a long and happy marriage. She taught at two Cardiff Catholic High Schools, Bishop Hannon and St Illtyd’s, and later at the state school in Malpas.
In her early life, Vivien was an Anglican, but she was received into the Catholic Faith by Revd Ray O’Shea around 1973. In the late 1960s, the Catholic Church began to experience the phenomenon of ‘charismatic renewal‘ – a revival of the gifts mentioned in the Biblical Acts of the Apostles, speaking in tongues, prophesying, and experiencing God’s healing power. In Wales, Bishop Langton Fox was given oversight of this charismatic dimension of church life. In the young Vivien, he spotted the talents necessary to organise a national conference, and to represent Wales on the world stage. Despite her protests of inexperience, she became a key figure in arranging the annual Wales National Renewal Conference; and at world gatherings of charismatic leaders, where most countries sent bishops or senior priests, Wales sent Viv. Often the only woman and youngest lay-person present, she would read the Bible Lesson at Mass in these gatherings, and developed a close relationship with the Pope’s delegate to charismatic renewal, Cardinal Suenens of Brussels. I am told that she became known at the time as the “Cardinal’s sidekick”! Within Wales, she led the charismatic prayer group at The Walk Convent in Cardiff and rose to become chair of the National Service Committee 1984-90.
All of that took place before I came to know Viv. Before I share my own experience of her, I must acknowledge that in her written instructions for today, she stated that I was to speak about her faith. Now, “Faith” is an action-word. It’s not the beliefs we hold in our head – it’s what we do with them. And of all the Catholics I know, Vivien more than anyone else embodied what it is to be a lay member of the Catholic Church. The Viv I have just described was involved in the church at national and international level; the Viv I knew personally lived this out at home as well.
The faces of Viv where I only glimpsed the edge of what she did included her annual summer camping holiday. I would receive postcards from Christian sites the length and breadth of France and Italy, from Ars to Assisi, and we had a common love for the shrine of the Sacred Heart in Paray-le-Monial. I know that her travel plans also revolved around the question of where she could stop each weekend so as to be sure of hearing Mass.
Viv often spoke of her involvement in the parish here at Llantwit Major – in its administrative structures one of the best organised parishes I have come across, a gift to any parish priest placed in charge here. Her specialist role was on the magazine production committee. She was involved in the Parish Magazine from its beginning, and was editor of the last 12 editions, including the 50th edition which went to press just before she died. In that capacity she persuaded me to write articles on several occasions.
The face of Viv which I came to know directly was Viv at home, a friend I could visit and stay with for 24 hours without running out of things to talk about. On some such visits I would celebrate a house Mass – it was a sign of Viv’s concern for the poor that she would often invite friends who found it difficult to come to church, to join us. I know that for some fellow-clergy, Viv was the one who encouraged them to step out and put their beliefs into action. For me, Viv was a friend who shared my Catholic values, an utterly trustworthy ear for confidences which would go no further. Viv was passionate about praying the Divine Office, the official prayer of the church, and our visits were punctuated by saying the Office together at the appropriate times of day. When I received news of her passing I picked up my breviary and prayed the Office for the Dead – it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.
Viv hated flying, but overcame this to visit Medjugorje with Mike, a pilgrimage which marked a deepening for both of them in their sense of how the Mother of God was an integral part of their relationship with Christ. They had planned to go again this year, and invited me too – alas, her health meant that I went with the group but Viv and Mike remained in Wales.
In her daily prayers, in her commitment to her parish, in her passion for attending Sunday Mass, in her faithfully attending the Chrism Mass each year, in the international work she did for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal before I met her, I think we can truly say that Viv lived out her faith as an active member of the Church at all levels, giving her heart and soul to serving God. Why? We can find the best answer in her choice of one of our hymns today, “The love I have for you, my Lord, is only a shadow of your love for me.”
Before I end, there are some words I have been asked to read out.
From Viv’s husband, Mike: “I am a most fortunate person. I have had two marriages which have been extremely good marriages. I think that my marriage to Viv was a truly Christian marriage.”
From the Irish missionary priest, Pat Collins, who visited Viv a week before she died, I send his apologies that he cannot be with us today but an assurance of his prayers.
From Tony Warburton of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, an acknowledgement of Vivien’s long service and that she was “well thought of in the SVP”.
From Neil Tully, who succeeded Viv as Chair of Charismatic Renewal in Wales: “Those early days of Renewal were truly life changing, and Vivien was at the forefront. All of us owe her a great deal, strong leadership and good organisation. The challenge for all of us is to continue Vivien’s good work, to bring people to new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
From Fran Graham, the current National Chair: “Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales owes Vivien an irreplaceable debt for her work. We will miss her, but pray now that she has eternal peace and joy and that she will intercede for us. We offer our deepest sympathy to her husband Michael and all their family, and will keep them in our prayers.”
There is much more which could be said. In preparing these words I looked at Viv’s photo album on Facebook. There you can see Viv with the family members and friends she loved very much, with Harvey and many other horses, and perhaps the most typical recurring image – Viv somewhere on holiday, raising a glass of wine to the camera. At the Last Supper, Our Lord said that he would not drink his last cup of wine until he could share it with us in His Father’s Kingdom. In her last post on Facebook, Viv wrote: “On my way to Llandough – No e-mails while in hospital.” There is, sadly, no connection to Facebook where Viv is now, either, but when we catch up with her I’m pretty sure we’ll confirm that the selfie we’ve just missed out on involves two glasses.
I am tempted to finish with the sonorous words, “We will not see her like again”, a traditional turn of phrase in these Celtic lands when a person of stature has left our midst. But I think these words would be quite inappropriate for Viv, and for two reasons. First, we profess as Christians that in death, life is “changed, not ended”: Viv is not lost to us. But second, Viv’s great work was to inspire many other people to embrace the Catholic values she held dear. If we can each embrace and imitate her faithfulness to the Church and its mission, then her likeness will live on, and be visible, in each one of us. We might interpret her very name, Vivien Christine as, “living image of Christ”, which is what every Christian is called to be.
So – until we meet again, farewell to Vivien Snow, formerly Perry, formerly Thomas. Farewell to our Llantwit Gem, a living image of Christ in our midst. Enjoy your final and never-ending holiday, where Mass is always at hand – and rest in peace.