Margaret Thornton 1898 – 1977
Margaret was the ninth child and seventh daughter of George Drisdale Thornton and Agnes Helena Calder. She describes herself as a child who rarely asked questions but tried to get facts exactly true and then sort them out in her mind until she was sure. She was sent to the school in Roehampton. (Now, Digby Stuart College) She describes 1914 -1915 as the year when “the class-mistress transformed our minds and developed our thinking power so that we could never be the same again.” In 1917 she left school and in November of that year entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton.
From the noviciate Margaret went to teach in Hammersmith whilst also studying for a degree. She finished her degree in 1925 – Honours in Geography with European History. After her profession Rome in 1226 she returned once more to Hammersmith became the Sixth Form mistress and began her Doctorate studies. From 1933-36 she went to teach in the school in Tunbridge Wells but returned again to Hammersmith and was named to go to India but was sent to Shanghai, China where she would live for fifteen years.
Margaret went to Aurora College for Women, affiliated to the Jesuit Aurora University. It was the time of the Sino-Japanese war and just after the students left for home on August 14th a bomb fell in the locality where thousands of refugees were assembled, then others close by. In her own account of her life she describes what it was like living in war torn Shanghai. A tireless student, she added spoken Chinese and Mandarin Chinese to her store of European languages.
In 1943 the Sacred Heart Convent became an internment camp for “enemy nationals” among the religious women in Shanghai. The end of the war brought no peace to China which was trying to recover from war with Japan and in 1948 the Communist armies entered the town, gradually sacrificing all real study to parades, demonstrations and propaganda. It was a time of hardship and gradually the sisters were forced to leave.
Fr. Richard Harris S.J. writes;
“….Mother Thornton is probably the best known nun in the far east. Through her great gifts of character, the educational work of the Sacred Heart nuns in Shanghai was easily the best, not only in that city but probably in all China.”
Margaret Thornton was the last sister to leave - eight months after the others on July 1954 going first to Hong Kong and then to Japan before going via Rome to England.
In December she returned to Japan via U.S.A. where she received an Honorary Doctorate from Fordham University, New York. In Japan Margaret became Head of the English Department in the University of Tokyo and then moved to Susono to take charge of the Novitiate.
In 1963, aged 65 she went to Korea to help establish a College which opened in 1964.
In 1971 she returned to England. Her health was not good but in August 1971 she went for a short time to Lima, Peru to help the pupils with their examinations. She died in Roehampton on 5th June 1977. A Japanese sister writes:
“Certainly we can all be sure of the ‘all-embracing love’ of that legendary English nun who was known throughout all China as TANG MUMU.”