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News > Mayfield School News > We Said Goodbye to Antonia Beary

We Said Goodbye to Antonia Beary

20 Dec 2023
Mayfield School News

On a wet November day we gathered together to say goodbye to a truly remarkable daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin, friend and our Headmistress, Miss Antonia Mary Beary. 

Antonia was the epitome of Mayfield. A woman of great faith and humility, she lived her life by the Cornelian principles and was gifted with the ability to recognise someone's capacity and potential and nurture it with warmth and genuine pride in each and every girl. 

A student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Antonia was always destined to be a teacher, a leader and a campaigner of girls Catholic education.

It was - of course - a time of grief. But it was also a time of community, and a time of gratitude. From the moment Antonia’s coffin came through the top gate on the Friday evening, until she was interred in the graveyard in St. Dunstan's, Mayfield after Requiem Mass on Saturday, Mayfield was at its inimitable best. We said our goodbyes to our leader, friend and mentor in style. And while it’s true what they say - that funerals are for the living - none of us was in any doubt that Antonia would have thoroughly approved of every bit of it (especially the part where she managed to have the last word, and made all of us smile through our tears!).

The ten priests who showed up to concelebrate the funeral Mass may not have made a difference liturgically (though there was the logistical issue of where they’d all sit…!), but they certainly demonstrated in a way much more powerful than words could have expressed just how loved and respected she was by the Church, to whom she devoted so much of her life. A letter sent from Bishop Richard was read and was also testament to that love and respect.

Antonia went to her eternal rest surrounded by people who loved her, and in a coffin bearing the logo of the school she loved for seventeen years, fiercely and unequivocally. And she did it in her own, inimitable style - to the ancient strains of 'In Paradisum' from Gabriel Faure's 'Requiem', followed immediately by a bit of Hugh Laurie, of course!

We will always miss Antonia, but her memory will live on, for generations to come. We will safeguard her legacy - Mayfield Girls Catholic School - and our Cornelian ethos, of which Antonia was so, so proud. 

God bless, Antonia. May your soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

To mark her legacy, Antonia wanted to ensure that as many girls as possible are given the opportunity to experience a Mayfield education. We are therefore inviting donations to the Antonia Beary Bursary Fund. This will provide financial support for a Catholic girl, who would otherwise have found a Mayfield education unaffordable. To donate, please click the following link. Donate Here 

 

Memories of Antonia

In the part of Cornelia’s rule dealing with the governance of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, the ideals put forward for the First Prefect (Headmistress) are almost identical to those put forward in the 1863 Book of Studies for the mistresses teaching in the schools:

‘They must regard them (the children) as the children of God, redeemed by His most precious blood, therefore as the most precious charge that the love of Jesus could confide to them, and they should cherish a truly maternal love for them.’ 

To Antonia, all were God’s children, and so came under the same care, whether eight or eighty, student, staff or stranger; her concern for each was genuine, practical and comprehensive.

Life was for living, whether well or ill, and ideally, fun.  Her headteacher colleagues paid tribute to her as the Honorary Treasurer of the Girls’ Schools Association:

‘A treasured friend, Antonia lit up a room with her wit and warmth and brought joy with her wherever she went. Her vibrant life, and laugh, inspired the best in us all. Whenever we think of Antonia we think of her bright smile, and as someone who lived her faith. We hope she would wholeheartedly approve of us still thinking of her smiling down upon us. ‘

Her annual participation in a pilgrimage to Lourdes was of major importance to her and one she wished for others; hence her request for a Lourdes bursary fund. To the end she loved and served her Lord with her whole heart.  May she now rejoice eternally in his love.

Sr Jean Sinclair SHCJ

 

My Antonia – Di Clarke 

I did not know Antonia before she came to Mayfield school, but looking back to then I think that there was not a great deal time between her starting and me feeling that she had always been here. This was quite unusual because as a member of the catering team we were not usually aware of anyone starting here in any other department. It was in lots of ways quite insular.   

When Antonia became Head a couple of years after joining us here, she still retained her approachability, and at no point did I ever feel not her friend. In lots of ways, I feel that she was an open book. The school community, not matter their place in school, student, parent, guardian, support or academic staff mattered to her greatly. In fact, I used to joke that if we were to cut her in half she would have St. Leonards- Mayfield written through her middle much like a stick of rock. Of course, now it would just read Mayfield. 

When Antonia started at the school, she was accompanied by her faithful spaniel Humphrey and he was never far from Antonia’s feet, except when a ball had been thrown, not that he was able to retrieve it quickly. You saw Antonia and knew that he was within a short distance. I remember how lost she was when Humphrey died, and it took quite a while to not look for him whenever you saw Antonia. She later when on to foster two spaniels who had been abused, unfortunately the younger one died, but Tilly the survivor is now with a friend of Antonias living her best life. Antonia without a dog was just wrong. It is wonderful to know that Humphrey is with her now. 

 

You never expect your employer to become your friend, but that’s what happened to me. You never expect your place of work to become your home, but that’s what happened to me. And it’s all because of Antonia Beary.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Antonia. It was at a lunchtime meet-and-greet for applicants in the Courtyard, and I was waxing lyrical to a captive audience about my experiences in Lourdes. In my enthusiasm, I didn’t notice another person join the group. In my misguided confidence, I turned to the person and asked, ‘sorry, who are you?’ She took great delight in informing me that her name was Antonia and that she was the head. I learned two things that day: that Antonia Beary had a wicked sense of humour, and that it’s a really bad idea to choose the egg mayo sandwich during a job interview.

A lot of my memories of Antonia involve laughter. She could find something to laugh about in almost every situation, and she always made sure I left her office with a smile on my face (and usually a bit of Sr Jean’s tablet in my hand!). The rest of my memories tend to revolve around either champagne, or prayer. During the Covid lockdowns, when she was under such immense pressure, but led our school community with such grace, she always made time to come to the chapel and pray the Rosary with me- and Tilly! And when we had prayed together, she always made sure to ask me how I was doing.

That was the thing about Antonia- she genuinely cared how people were doing. She genuinely cared about people. When I would go down to her house for a visit during her final months, she would always ask about the school, and how this teacher, or that student, was doing, and she would ask me to check in with so-and-so, or say a prayer for somebody. She was compassion personified, and she was love in action. She brought the Gospels to life, and she lived out her simple faith in a way I could only ever aspire to. Even in her illness, she found a way to grow closer to God, her faith strengthening even as her body weakened.

Antonia gave me a chance. She was my mentor, my supporter, and my inspiration. Above all, she was my friend. I’m truly grateful to her, for everything, and I- along with so many others- will miss her forever.

“This life is only a little dream that will pass away as a shadow! We are here today and gone tomorrow. What matters who is for us or who is against us? Let us only love and serve God.” -Cornelia Connelly

Ronan Lavery - Chaplin

 

Antonia helping to serve wine / drinks at all functions, as deputy this was immediately upon entering the room. As Head this happened after any speeches need to be made.  

 Personally, I remember this most especially at the support staff Christmas party – absolute sacrilege if you had an empty glass, so she was always wandering around topping people up. Although I know that she was just the same at the academic parties.  

Her interest in you extended to your family. How she kept everyone and their families straight I have no idea, but she was very successful in this, and this helped make you feel even more valued as a colleague and friend. It was very rare for a chance to chat, and no mention of family was involved. I don’t think there were many occasions when I have had need to pass Antonias office and the door was open that she didn’t ask me in and check how everything was going for me and especially my parents. Particularly once they moved to Norfolk having spent the rest of my life in this area. When Dad was taken to hospital for a chest infection, I was on my way there before I could draw breath with her complete approval and again less than two months later when he then had a stroke.   

Being a little older than her I had invited Antonia, along with a large proportion of the staff in school, to my 50th birthday celebrations, which she had said planned to attend. Unfortunately, she was not feeling great on the day and so she stayed away. I got home and found a lovely bouquet of flowers waiting outside my door for me with a note saying how disappointed she was not to be able to attend. With my birthday being a few days before Christmas she had made sure that the cold, she was hatching was not passed onto anyone else, therefore hoping to keep everyone else fit and healthy to enjoy the festive season.  

I know that she was most disappointed not to be able to be there as I had a barn dance, so that summers end of year staff party there was a barn dance held in the gym for us to enjoy/take part in. 

Writing a eulogy for someone who was not only my boss, but my colleague, my mentor but more importantly my friend, was always going to be difficult and having already shared some memories and thoughts with the current school community I find myself wondering how best to approach writing something for the Old Cornelians, whose memories and reminiscences of Antonia go, in many cases, further back than my own. Therefore, I shall start with some of the facts and see in the best literary sense where the journey takes me.

After a suitably lengthy period studying (or rowing) at Cambridge, Antonia started her teaching career at the Leys School Cambridge, where she taught English. She then moved to Ampleforth where she focused on the pastoral side of school life in her role as the Housemistress of St Aiden’s house.   Further promotion to Head of Sixth Form at New Hall School  meant she was in a perfect position to take on the role of Deputy Head Pastoral at Mayfield in September 2006. On arrival at Mayfield, having always been a ‘Toni’ to many of her friends, a bursar with the same name meant she became Antonia to most of the staff and girls here. Two years later, Antonia become Headmistress of Mayfield and the rest is history!

Her love for Mayfield and all its quirkiness was legendary – over the seventeen years that she was here, she shaped and formed this school. Antonia was determined to put boarding back into the heart of Mayfield and during her time worked tirelessly to increase the numbers of boarders, and improve the provision that the school offers through the now extensive extra-curricular and weekend programmes. She gave herself wholeheartedly to the community and involved herself in as much as possible, from watching sport matches, attending concerts and plays, supervising parties with local boys schools, leading Lourdes pilgrimages, supporting the prefects with Live Crib and Muck Up Day and even one year lending a hand when we were short of an exam invigilator at the last minute!  She was also a stickler for high academic standards, both in herself and others and during her time Mayfield’s current strong position in school league tables was cemented. Her love of English and English literature remained with her throughout her life and even in the last few days we were testing each other by exchanging quotes from Lord Bryon to Margery Allingham! However, her love of a Cornelia quote was the most powerful of them all. No matter what the situation or occasion, there was always a fitting quote that firmly reminded everyone of the truly inspirational legacy that Cornelia gave the School.  

Antonia lived her live through the school. An educationalist through and through she believed in every single one of the students who came through her care and she cared deeply for them. Over the years she has influenced countless lives. In particular, I was always impressed by how she always looked for the good in everyone; having a faith in them that at times they didn’t have themselves. Antonia was always finding impromptu opportunities to inspire and encourage others to be themselves, but make that self what God would want one to be.   

Antonia is owed an enormous debt of gratitude for her commitment to the whole Mayfield Community and right up until the end she remained invested in all Cornelians - celebrating their successes, taking pleasure in their joys, and supporting those in need. She leaves an outstanding legacy, which we all need to play our part in carrying on so the Mayfield she knew and loved can continue to go from strength to strength.  "I thought to live to complete my work, but it will be done by others". (Cornelia Connelly)

by Annabel Bunce - Deputy Head (Academic)

 

 

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