Shekleton, Mary


b Dublin 1827, d Dublin 1883. She was taught first by her young widowed mother who as a new Christian had 4 small girls to bring up, aged between 6 years and 6 months (Mary). Mrs Shekleton was on a steep learning curve, growing rapidly in her faith and knowledge of the Bible while praying with and for her daughters and reading to and with them. Fragile from birth and apparently doomed by TB (‘consumption’), Mary showed spiritual awareness from her earliest years, knowing the Lord for as long as she could remember. Governesses and (from 1845) a clergyman, W H Krause, helped in the work of education; then in 1852 both tutor and mother were taken by death. Surviving, but an invalid herself especially from 1861 onwards, close to death at least then and in 1872, Mary worked as secretary of the Invalids’ Prayer Union which she founded in that latter year. This formed a network growing to more than 300 housebound contacts who became her friends by correspondence, news and prayer, which a clergyman friend Joseph Welland called her ‘large diocese of invalids’. The IPU grew from the positive responses to part of a letter published without her knowledge, in the journal Women’s Work in the great Harvest Field. She provided her contacts with 6 basic practical ‘rules’, Scripture readings, prayer topics, a prayerfully-chosen annual ‘motto’ and some brief but always thoughtful devotional comments. These often used a single word or phrase (‘thorns’, ‘hope’, ‘the Sabbath made for man’) as a window for broader perspectives: ‘Legislation which dishonours the Sabbath damages society…There is no bondage in Sabbath service’; ‘Numbering the people’ and ‘England’s Census’. She was fully occupied with this work and with writing and sewing for charitable causes; her writing is honest, aware of failure, sometimes witty, always thankful, never gloomy or critical of others, full of nuggets of scriptural truth combined with practical common sense. She warns against ‘dwelling on our infirmities’, ‘a fruitless search for health with little reasonable hope of success’, even the snare and habit of ‘invalidism’ as a way of life. In discussing ‘healing by faith [alone]’, clearly an issue for some, she argued that on the basis of rejecting doctors and medicines, ‘we must, if we are consistent, reject many other agencies…If in time of rain we pray for fine weather, we should cease to take precautions against rain, or, if we pray for rain, we should cease to water our gardens’! Rare visits to a church service are a delight: ‘…to join in public worship with the people of God…I found myself in the house of God after an absence of nearly twenty years. I need not say how full was my heart’. She appreciated the hills and coastline around Monkstown and Bray just south of Dublin, and just once she reluctantly consented to be photographed, for the sake of those who would never see her in the flesh. Frances Havergal was one who valued her correspondence and her hymns. By the beginning of 1883, however, she had become too weak to continue, and she died in September that year; near the end she would repeat ‘Jesus, thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress…’ (no.778). In the year following her death her sister Margaretta of Kingstown, Co Dublin (no mean Bible scholar herself, the author of Biblical Geography in a Nutshell and one of 3 surviving sisters), published Chosen, Chastened and Crowned—Memorials of Mary Shekleton. Her one enduring hymn has been in wide evangelical use since 1873 (in Sankey—see notes); its full 7 stzs occupy pp4–5 of the 1884 Memorials but it is absent from the latest (2005) major Irish collection. No.727.

Hymns and songs by Shekleton, Mary

Number Hymn Name
727 Beyond all knowledge is your love divine