McLachlan, Laurentia (1866–1953)

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McLachlan, Laurentia (1866–1953)

English abbess and scholar . Name variations: Dame Laurentia McLachlan. Born Margaret McLachlan on January 11, 1866, in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, England; died on August 23, 1953, in Worcester, England; daughter of Henry McLachlan and Mary (McAleese) McLachlan; received education at Stanbrook Abbey under Benedictine clergy; never married; no children.

Entered Benedictine order (1884); became subprioress (c. 1910); became abbess (1932).

Although Dame Laurentia McLachlan lived cloistered in a Roman Catholic abbey in England for nearly 70 years, she maintained lively friendships with renowned humanists, intellectuals, and writers. Born Margaret McLachlan in Lanarkshire in 1866, she was sent away to school in Edinburgh as a teen, and then on to Worcester's Stanbrook Abbey convent school. There she was taught by Benedictine nuns, members of a religious order dating back to early medieval England. When she finished school, McLachlan returned to her parents' home for six months, then entered the convent for good in September 1884. With her vows, one of which was never to leave the premises of the abbey, she took the name Laurentia, and to that added the title "Dame," as Benedictine sisters in England are called. She lived her life as did other sisters of the Abbey, spending six hours a day in prayer or singing the liturgy, two hours in manual labor, and the remainder in study or reading. McLachlan became a learned scholar of medieval liturgical texts. She also became a subprioress around 1910, and in 1932 was elected abbess by her community.

McLachlan engaged in several years-long correspondences with various intellectuals of her day, most notably the playwright George Bernard Shaw. A socialist and unabashed atheist, Shaw stopped occasionally at Stanbrook Abbey to visit McLachlan, as did her other correspondents. A breach in their friendship occurred in 1933 with the publication of his play The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God, which contained several scenes considered blasphemous, including the destruction of a crucifix. To mend the friendship, McLachlan sent him an announcement that commemorated her 50th anniversary as a Benedictine, which he mistook for a death announcement. Their correspondence continued until Shaw was well into his 90s. The abbess' trove of extant letters reveal a spirited woman adept at defending her faith from non-believers.


Corrigan, D. Felicitas. The Nun, the Infidel, and the Superman. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

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McLachlan, Laurentia (1866–1953)

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