Read below article from RTE website by Dr Bronagh Ann McShane
RECIRC, Moore Institute
Read below article from RTE website by Dr Bronagh Ann McShane
RECIRC, Moore Institute
Given by: Sr. Christina Greene OP on March 26th 2017
Good afternoon. Welcome to the Sion Hill event of the year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sheila Drum, Principal of Dominican College, all the staff and students, parents, committee and Board of Management for inviting us to what I call a banquet of life.
I want to particularly welcome two former principals of Dominican College, both valiant and inspiring women, Sister Michèle O’Donovan and Patricia Fitzsimons.
When I walked into St. Thomas’ building this afternoon I felt embraced by energy, enthusiasm, culture, history and life bubbling up from the very wellsprings of the foundations of Sion Hill. We all know that days like this don’t happen without a huge commitment from staff, students and parents, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude.
Today is a day to rejoice and be glad:
• A day to reflect and reminisce
• A day to meet and greet friends, old and new
• A day to look back with gratitude
• A day to look forward with courage and hope
• A day to be proud, not just of achievements but of the people committed to the legacy of Dominican education. As I said to Sheila Drum, the pioneering women of 1836 would be very proud today.
Today we celebrate a story within a story. As the well-known author, Henning Mankel said, “It is sometimes good to go backwards. To a beginning.” And I’m going to take a step backwards for a moment.
Over 800 years ago a Spanish priest called Dominic de Guzman, known to us affectionately as St. Dominic, founded the Dominican Order. He founded the Dominican Sisters first because he recognised the importance of education for women so that they could take their place in society and the Church – I’ll make no comment on the Church part of it! From then till now is a long story and I’m going to skip a lot of chapters to come closer to our own time. Yesterday, 25th of March, the Dominicans celebrated 300 years of Dominican women in Dublin – we’re on a bit of a celebratory roll at the moment. But today is the icing on the cake, 180 years of educating girls at Dominican College, Sion Hill.
About 1836 a group of Dominican sisters from Cabra, inspired by their mission to preach the gospel through education, ventured across the Liffey to new horizons in suburbia Dublin – and Sion Hill was born. This mission would have been impossible without the many teaching colleagues who collaborated with the sisters down through the years.
Legend has it that Sion Hill got its name from a rare plant brought from the Holy Land – so a small piece of the Holy Land is part of the fabric of Sion Hill. That’s what I like to believe even though it has never be verified.
As I watched eight decades of uniforms being modelled so elegantly by the Sion Hill students I noticed that the Dominican Crest and Veritas motto wasn’t a feature until the 1960’s. It has now become part of our DNA. The Crest is not exclusive to Sion Hill. It is worn on every Dominican uniform from Buenos Aires to Blackrock and beyond, reminding us that we belong to something bigger than ourselves, that we are part of a rich Dominican tapestry ever ancient ever new.
The Latin motto Veritas translates into the word Truth – it’s a motto that the world badly needs, as we all know that truth is under siege at the moment. On the 21st of January this year, Pope Francis spoke of what he called “a liquid society” – that we are making up truth as we go along. But our motto, Veritas, invites us to be ambassadors of truth. It challenges us to keep searching for truth – about God, the world and ourselves – to contemplate truth and not to be afraid, to share it with the world. St. Dominic said, “We must sow the seed of truth, not hoard it”.
As we wind down the 180th celebration we move to new times and new chapters in the life story of Sion Hill with courage and hope. I’d like to leave the last word to Catherine of Siena, 14th century Dominican woman, “If you are true to yourself, you will set the whole world on fire with truth and beauty.”
May God bless Sion, may she live and prosper
In loyal love beneath God’s Blessed rule
And may her children o’er the world be ever
True to their God, their motto and their school. (Sion Hill’s School Song)
Christina Greene, O.P.
Homily at 60th Anniversary Mass St. Dominic’s College Ballyfermot
As a past pupil, current teacher in St Dominic’s and fellow Dominican Associate I have had the unique opportunity to see the school from different points of view. I was once like the children in Gospel. I started in St Dominic’s in 2001. At the age of 12 I did not realise that I was entering more than a building with furniture. I was entering a community, a community that has established itself over the past 800 years. It’s a community that like Jesus in the Gospels asked the children of Ballyfermot to come forward 60 years ago and trust the Dominican Sisters with the their education.
Now I am in the position to ask children to come to St Dominic’s and entrust us with the special care that Jesus said they should have. Thinking about the 60 years of St Dominic’s College Ballyfermot I have to admire the vision and courage of those who founded the school in 1956.
Ireland and Ballyfermot back in 1956 were not the same as today. Ballyfermot was a suburb with fields and meadows all around. The Dominican Sisters came and asked the people of Ballyfermot if they could educate their young girls. This may not seem a big deal now but educating women was not the priority back in the 1950s especially in large families that had no history of education. Education had to be paid for and people believed that women did not need an education. These were the realities that faced the sisters but they were willing to embrace this challenge because they knew the truth, the VERITAS, that education is singly one of the most important gifts you can give to anyone. They had the vision that young women would be educated and would rightly take their position in society as equals. It’s because of the Dominican sisters that we have produced lawyers, nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs, accountants, and many more highly successful proud women.
Over the years many staff have come and gone. Some have stayed a year and some have stayed over 40 years but each one has embraced what it means to give the gift of a Dominican Education. The mission statement of the school states,
“We in St. Dominic’s are committed to providing a Christian education inspired by the Dominican motto “truth” which fosters the development of the whole person”.
This is what sets our school apart from others. Our school develops the whole person. The whole person is what makes everyone of us here, who we are. It is not just the side of us that can read and write and sit an exam but the side of us, that stands up and speaks out when we see injustice, that shows love to a neighbour, that values the friends and family we have, that wants to excel in the talents that are bursting out of each one of us. That is the whole person. Thousands of pupils have passed through the school over the years and each staff member that works in the school knows, like Jesus in the Gospel, that the young ladies that pass through the school are what is important.
The vision showed by the Dominican Sisters 60 years ago has been a success. We are here today and the doors of the school are still open. Each day a small difference is being made to lives of each student. Each day a lesson is learned and a smile is created. This is not to say that we don’t make mistakes. The disciples made a mistake in the Gospel. Each and every one of us in our school community has made mistakes as staff and students. Once we realise we made a mistake it’s not dwelling on it that matters. It’s about not making the same mistake again. 60 years ago I bet there were lots of mistakes that were made but the Sisters did not give up, they pushed on everyday striving to bring Christian values to every one of the girls that came into the school and we today 60 years on follow in their footsteps in trying to do the same.
It is important to remember today the sad times. We as a school community over the years have had difficult times in our own personal lives and in our school lives. We have lost members of our family we loved dearly and friends that made our world a little better but it’s through community that our wounds slowly heal. It’s the kind word, the subtle smile, the kind gesture that helps us get through those dark days and St Dominic’s is a community that strives to brighten those dark days.
As we reflect on the 60 years that have gone before us, who knows what the future will hold. As a school we will continue to speak Gods message, to teach and encourage, to share and show kindness. We will continue to put the young women of Ballyfermot and the surrounding community at the centre of prayers and actions like Jesus wanted us to do. We will continue to educate like the sisters did 60 years ago. We will continue to foster the whole person. We will continue to be the best school we can possible be. Why you may ask? It is simply because we are St Dominic’s Ballyfermot.
Preacher: Cheryl Keeler,
Career Guidance and Religion Teacher at the School
This is the Vocation story of Sr Margaret Kelly O.P, a Cabra Dominican Sister, who lives and works in South Africa. Sr Margaret is passionate about justice and peace issues. She has served as Mission Area Prioress of South Africa in years gone by and she has also served as a Councillor in the Generalate. She is currently the Prioress of St Dominic’s Priory in Port Elizabeth.
I was lucky enough to attend a Dominican school in Dun Laoghaire for most of my school life. I remember in the Primary school several Nuns from different Orders came to tell their stories and to invite us to join them. I remember thinking that if ever I decided to become a Nun I’d become a Dominican. I found the Sisters gentle, encouraging and friendly…they seemed to assume that if they taught us well we would respond by learning well. And they were right because they taught us above all to love and search for “Truth” – their Dominican Motto.
In High school we were treated more and more as responsible adults as we went up the ranks. We had Dominican Priests to preach our Retreats and we could pop into the Convent chapel daily where we heard the Sisters praying the Divine Office. As I moved up the school I needed to decide what I wanted to do and what subjects I needed to take. With only two years left, I realised that I wanted to become a Dominican. After some time I found a close friend of mine was also thinking of joining the Sisters. Later we discovered that another friend had also decided to join the Order. So after writing Matric and enjoying summer holidays, Dorothy Balfe, Cora McCullagh and I joined the Dominicans – and we are all still here today. The initial inspiration came from God, but through sisters who were warm, friendly, intellectually challenging and committed to prayer, love of God and others and to education, as a way of preaching the Word of God.
At school I had also been very impressed when I heard stories of the Dominican Sisters and their ministries in South Africa and so after Novitiate responded to my second calling to Mission and I set sail for Cape Town. I enjoyed my years at university both in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria even though because of Apartheid only White students were allowed there. They too soon became friends even though they had been brought up prejudiced against Catholics as well as Blacks. The search for Truth at many levels and in various ways brought us all together. I then began my teaching career and after some years became School Principal in Holy Rosary in Port Elizabeth. I had also joined the local Justice and Peace Commission and both ministries came together in 1977 when we answered the call to open the school to children of all races which was against the Apartheid Laws. There were many threats and harassments from security police but the call to Justice was much stronger and we were bravely supported by many teachers, pupils and parents. When I was called to serve on our Region Council I worked to extend the appreciation of different Races, Languages and Cultures in all our Schools.
In January 1987 I was invited to serve as Secretary to the Justice and Peace Commission of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) headed by Archbishop Denis Hurley. Apartheid was at its worst and many of our workers were in prison so it was another challenging Call. In my years there I saw the bombed out headquarters of those who resisted apartheid: the Trade Unions, the Council of Churches and our own SACBC. But in spite of the brutality of the Apartheid System, it was a privilege to work with many stalwarts of the Liberation Struggle. Alas, just as Mandela took over as President and the ANC as Government in 1994 I was called to take over the Leadership of our Sisters in South Africa. Several different calls to Service and Leadership followed over the next two decades and to each I just said: “Yes Lord”.
Each day I just thank the Lord for His many different calls to me over the course of my life. The calls of the Lord meant I had a rich, fulfilling and very happy life – far greater that I could ever have asked for or imagined if my life had been determined by my own silly whims.
Sr Margaret Kelly O.P
A family story, that I was never too happy to hear repeated, was about my being brought as a small girl to visit a convent. One of the Sisters asked me what I would like to be when I grew up and my reply was “I would like to be a Reverend Mother”! Let me hasten to add that I do not proffer the story as an early indication of a religious vocation, but rather because it suggests, correctly, that convents and sisters were a familiar and positive part of the ambience I grew up in, as were churches and priests, Mass, Benediction, Sodalities, other Church devotions.
In other words, I was lucky enough to grow up at a time in Ireland when for many people God was acknowledged as the ultimate context of life, even though they probably wouldn’t have expressed it in so many words.
I went to school first to the Ursulines in Cork and later, as a boarder, to the Loreto Sisters in Dublin. I remember my school days as happy and in hind-sight I realise that, as well as being well-taught, I learned a great deal about my faith through the example as well as the teaching of the Sisters. Their lives had a certain mystery about them too, which like many other girls, I found intriguing. In fact in many ways they became my role models. Which was, I suppose, why in my final years in school I found myself seriously considering whether I was being called to become a sister myself.
However, when I told my father about it, he was quite adamant that I should go to College first. And so I went to UCC where doing an Arts Degree, making new friends, and being part of various College societies and wider student social life absorbed all my time and energy for the next four years. All thought of religious life faded into the background. After that I had the good fortune to be invited to teach in a newly opened and innovative lay Catholic school and so to begin my professional career in a dynamic setting which I found challenging, absorbing and fulfilling.
Around the same time, my brother, who had entered the Dominican Order some years previously, was ordained. Attending his Ordination and his First Mass were very happy and significant family events. In the succeeding months I found myself, possibly because questioned by my brother’s life and values, beginning to revisit my own attraction to religious life. But not only was I very happy in my job but I had just begun a 2-year Master’s degree course in French. This gave me a further reason for deferring the decision I now knew had to be made. When I did finally face it, it took me a further two years of indecision before I finally applied to be admitted to the Congregation of the Irish Dominican Sisters and was accepted. This Dominican Congregation, in contrast to the two congregations with which I was familiar, was almost completely unknown to me.
That was in July. There were still three months of inner churning, where I lurched from making necessary preparations to enjoying, what I saw as for the last time, a hill-climbing holiday with friends, and visits to places I thought I would never see again. I have a vivid memory of free-wheeling one day down a long hill enjoying, though with a certain sadness, the wind in my face and the sense of utter freedom. Yet the inner call remained insistent.
It was altogether unexpected then on the day we entered the Novitiate and all the goodbyes were over and my family had departed for Cork that my immediate sense in this unknown place among so many strangers was of total peace of mind. It was not so much an experience of being confirmed in the choice I had made with so much difficulty, as a sense of having landed in the way of life that God had chosen for me without my realising it.
Although like everybody else I have had my share of major and minor crises and of dark times of suffering, I have never even for a single moment doubted that I was in the place where I belonged. Sixty years later I am still amazed at having the good fortune to belong to the Dominican Order.
There followed three years of initiation into the particular way of following Christ shaped by St. Dominic our founder, which is summed up in one of the mottos of the Order as: “To praise, to bless, to preach.” So from the first day we new arrivals learned the meaning of “To praise” by being absorbed actively into the community liturgy, singing with them the praises of God in the Eucharist and the Divine Office, and in class being instructed in the Scriptures, in particular the psalms, as well as in the chanting and singing of the Gregorian Chant. (In those days the Office was recited or sung in Latin). I found this all most enriching. I grew to love it and continue to be sustained by it as a sharing in the prayer of Christ with the whole Church.
In the same way we learned by the way daily life was organised that “To bless” meant in practice putting others, and first of all the community before oneself, being “time-tabled” rather than organising one’s own time, for example, and more demanding still, learning to love one’s neighbour as oneself. A life-long work, for sure, but for us young people living with others of our own age and in our first fervour, it did not seem too difficult.
The teaching of the formation community both by their example and by their class work was my first initiation into what it is for Dominicans “To preach.” Then after those first three years I was back to the field of education myself and had my first experience of the particular quality of Dominican education as a member of a very creative staff of sisters and lay teachers. I was constantly surprised by their readiness to try out new ideas such as taking part in pilot schemes for curriculum development, and by their ability to draw out the potential of their students by their respect and trust in them.
After some years I became involved in other expressions of the Dominican preaching charism, first as member of a formation team privileged to help young women discern and test their own call to religious life, and later as member of the Council of the Congregation where I had the opportunity of visiting our sisters working in other parts of the world, and of being introduced by them to different contexts and experiences of Church in South Africa, Argentina, Lisbon and Louisiana as well as in Ireland.
My last preaching ministry was a return to teaching, this time to adults, in an Institute founded by a Dominican Friar whose vision it was to put together the insights of modern psychology and the insights of the great religious traditions. I was part of a team made up of Dominican brothers and sisters, lay men and women. As teachers, guides and therapists we worked with the many people who found being introduced to this particular map of the person through a reflective methodology helpful in making sense of their lives in the rapidly changing Ireland of today. It was for me a profound experience of Dominican preaching.
The words of T.S.Eliot: “In my end is my beginning” come to mind when I reflect on my experience of living out the call “To praise, to bless, to preach” in old age. In some ways with the falling away of outer ministries, the mission area is more and more the local community with all the joys, challenges and difficulties that this entails as we struggle to become together a community of holy preaching. Yet we never cease being called to bear witness to God’s compassion for the world and opportunities to do so in our daily comings and goings keep taking me by surprise.
I am grateful to be part of a community where the example of others in their fidelity to the praising of God in the liturgy, and to the blessing of each other in community, encourage me to keep going, and, more importantly, to keep remembering the truth I glimpsed on the day I entered: I am of God’s making, not my own. St. Paul puts it so much better than I can: “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he meant us to live it.” (Eph. 2:10)
Sr Joan O’Donovan OP
“Each one is different but each one has received an invitation from Jesus.”
When I was 12 years of age, I was travelling with my mother and my two sisters and two brothers in a train from Durban to Pietermaritzburg (Natal, South Africa). A thought or voice came to me “When I pass here again I will be a nun.” I was quiet for a time and then I forgot about it.
In Maritzburg, I attended a Convent school of the Sisters of the Holy Family, first as a day pupil and then as a boarder. The teachers were excellent and so was our religious formation. We attended daily Mass in the Parish Church, which was opposite the school, and could pray in the Sisters’ Chapel in the afternoons. A Praesidium of the Legion of Mary was begun by Ruby Roberts, who had travelled from Kenya, where she was working with Edel Quinn. The meetings each week and the work we were given deepened my prayer life, but I had no thoughts of “being a nun.”
My family returned to Ireland in mid-year 1944 and it was decided that I would go to the Dominican School in Wicklow. It was like entering another world and I was the ‘alien.’ I spoke with a South African accent, my hair was bleached from the sun and the girls in my class knew very little about the war raging in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia from where I had come. The Sisters were more understanding and they were my teachers. One Sister in particular, who was in charge of the boarders, was deeply understanding of how I was feeling and the difficulties I had in adjusting to school life. She was Sister Marcoline Lawler and she became my lifelong friend.
My three years in Wicklow was my real ‘novitiate’ where I came to know and love Jesus Christ. The religious formation was an integral part of our education and quite intensive: daily Mass, rosary and Benediction, retreats, study of the gospels and the Church and spiritual reading. By the time it came for me to leave school, my secret wish was to give my life to God. Would it be possible for me to enter religious life with the Dominicans? My family was returning to Singapore, I had no family in Ireland and I still felt a stranger in an unknown land. The Dominicans were willing to receive me, and my parents reluctantly allowed me to go my way (I had just turned eighteen years of age). It was the first and only time I saw my Father cry when he said goodbye to me. The years in the novitiate were not happy ones. Life was austere, restrictive and sometimes bewildering. I was very lonely for my family who were so far away. There were many things I would have liked to share with them.
All was not darkness! Sister Mary John of Gorcom was one of our ‘teachers’ and introduced us to the Divine Office, the Prayer of the Church, and my love for the Psalms began then. She also led us through Scripture, Church History, the great artists and their paintings, the constellations and, later on, Latin. From time to time, she would give us news of the outside world: we had no access to newspapers or radio. There were nine of us and she contrived to make our lives as normal as possible.
I made First Profession and, after one more year in the novitiate house, we were assigned out to a community. It was like being released from prison and joy of joys, I was sent to my beloved Wicklow! Once again, I had access to books, newspapers and radio, and to very enjoyable conversations at ‘recreation’ time. We lived a very full and ‘rich’ religious life. As well as the daily hours of community prayer, there were times for private prayer and spiritual reading. We had wonderful ten-day retreats from very good Dominican preachers and, during the year, we had local confessors who gave excellent spiritual direction.
After studying for a degree and diploma in education, I returned once more to the community in Wicklow and to the work of teaching. This was the late 1950’s. I began to feel a sense of uneasiness about the religious life and I expressed it to a Sister as stagnation. Something had to change and it did! A newly-elected Prioress General asked for volunteers to go to Alabama in the USA. I, and several other Sisters, volunteered. In fact, none of us were sent to Alabama, but to other communities in Ireland and South Africa and I was sent to Portugal. This was in 1962, when the Vatican Council II began in Rome and the Spirit of change was everywhere.
I have been in Portugal for 45 years and it is now my religious home and country. Our community life is prayerful, joyful and lively. We take an active part in the life of the people, the Church, and the Dominican Family, and have opportunities for being truly a Community of Holy Preaching.
By the way, I did pass through the Valley of a Thousand Hills again! I was attending a Leadership Conference in South Africa and travelled from Durban to Maritzburg, but this time, by coach along a wide motorway with the hills in the distance.
Sr Aedris Coates OP
This is the Vocation Story of Sr Francis Cosgrove, a Cabra Dominican Missionary Sister, living and working in South Africa. Sr Francis specialises in Spiritual Direction and gives guided Retreats to individuals.
I give thanks to God for the precious gift of a Vocation to the Religious Life and I marvel at the wonderful ways in which I have been guided along the way. I also give thanks for the many people who have encouraged me and supported me in it, for over 60 years; chief among them would be my family, extended family, friends, Dominican teachers and Community members.
I come from a very staunch Catholic family where the practice of our faith was second-nature. Most of my school life was spent in Sion Hill, a local Dominican School. I imbued the spirit of St Dominic from the Sisters who taught me, and was especially influenced by the example of their joyfulness, prayerfulness and kindness. No wonder, then, that as I progressed up the school and began to think about the future, I gradually became aware of a gentle urge to “be a nun”. All of this, of course, I kept to myself.
I spent the last three years of my school life in the boarding school, where we had more contact with the Sisters and could join them for Compline in the Chapel at night. During these years, too, we had many visits from Sisters of other Congregations looking for young people to join them. We also worked very hard for the annual Sale of work for the Missions, as well as for the Holy Childhood Association. God was at work, and the urge to find out more grew! This I did by praying to the Holy Spirit, going to Bookshops, picking up leaflets etc. The turning point for me was when a dear Sister, who had known me from the Junior School, asked me one night, “Anne, have you ever thought of becoming a nun?” My reply was, “No one has ever asked me!” I was 16 years old at the time. That for me was a sign from God that I was on the right path. And so the search continued for another year and a half.
Finally, in my last year at school, we had a visit from some Sisters working in South Africa. The whole School was assembled to hear them speak about their life and work there. I cannot remember what was said, but I do know that at a certain moment during their address to us, I knew that I was being called to be a Dominican in South Africa.
Six months later, I was being interviewed by Mother Reginald and other Sisters in Cabra, Dublin. In October 1952, I entered the Novitiate in Kerdiffstown and three years later, I arrived in Cape Town. Many changes have taken place since then, both in myself and in the country, but I know that the decision to answer the call of God was the best one I have ever made! It has brought me happiness and fulfilment.
As regards Ministry, I was a full-time teacher and cared for Boarders up until the early seventies when I was gradually led into a new Ministry of Spiritual Direction and Individually-Directed-Retreats. At first, this could only be part time, as I had other commitments. However, since 1992, it has been my main involvement in Pastoral Care. For the past fifteen years, I have run our Retreat Centre here in Springfield. It has been most enriching and life-giving experiences for me.
I pray that God will guide you as you search for His will for YOU.
Have YOU ever thought of becoming a Sister?
Sr Francis Cosgrove O.P
On Monday morning in September 1943 four of us; Frances Lodge, Ann Fitzgerald, Sr. Dorothea O.P. and myself, (Sr. Grignion, now Sr. Maureen O.P.) sat down in a small uncomfortable room in Sion Hill to attend our first lecture. We were pioneers of the Froebel method of primary education in the Republic of Ireland. The lecturers were as perplexed as we were, but as the course unfolded, revealing the open, liberal method of Frederick Froebel, both rose to the task and the first few years passed quickly and successfully.
I was full of enthusiasm for the new method of learning through activity – “no more sitting on a hard old bench” – of encouraging pupils to explore the world around them, especially their immediate environment, to see and respect the beauty of nature and to express themselves through art. The child was now at the centre. We learnt how to discover the gifts and strengths of each, how to respond to these and so help the child to develop in a holistic way. I loved especially the emphasis on self-expression through creative crafts and art.
Further years were to bring changes. I found myself teaching Art at senior and then at student and adult levels, but whatever the age group or subject, the principles advocated by Froebel, were as relevant at 5, 15 or 50 years.
See more at National University of Ireland Maynooth
When I think of my years at the Froebel College of Education the words freedom and trust come to mind. My Froebel days go from 1990-1993 and being immersed in the philosophy of education that highlighted free play, discovery learning, drawing from the child, engaging with children in their learning, the recognition that children have unique gifts and capabilities and the image of a garden where all these children are to be taken care of and nourished- gave the sense of freedom, trust and a wonderment of what lay before us as educators. The philosophy of Fredrich Froebel (1782-852) was tangible throughout my three years in the college. Froebel created the concept of ‘Kindergarten’. In this Kindergarten children are to be taken care of and nourished like plants in a garden. He taught the connection of human life and life in nature and central to it all was the importance of free play. It was a busy time of putting together treasure boxes, adapting stories to suit the needs of the children in front of us, collecting all sorts of materials to recycle into maths, English, Irish equipment for groups of children, arranging play areas and planning activities where nature was to be a prominent part of the child’s life.
On a personal note I was always grateful to Sr Maura Duggan for giving me the space to engage with the course and with the students and for encouraging us on any ideas or thoughts about aspects of college life we may have had. It was truly a fun time, though the teaching practices were difficult, but the closeness and support of students to and for one another filled the atmosphere of the college. Sr Conleth Wilson also comes to my mind first when I reflect on Froebel and his method of education. Her art classes were always calm, safe and seemed the right place to be at the time. She gently led us through the theme of the class, instructed on what was required and then stepped back and watched with love what was produced by each student. One day in particular, feeling that I should by now be producing a work of art, I put down my utensils and gave up ready to dispose of what I had done. Needless to say Sr Conleth stepped quietly forward and simply suggested that I stop for a minute. She then invited me to take another look at the piece and told me to point out what part of the picture stands out for me when I look at it. This I calmly did. I was then instructed to rule lines around that one little piece, cut it out, mount it twice and finally put it up on the display board. Time moved on and I completed the task and stood back to look at the picture. Sr Conleth returned to my side and said simply, “well, what do you think now?” I actually thought it was good and said so. She agreed of course and finished by saying, “yes you did that, I guided you to show you what you can do. That is your task with the children you come into contact with will be. You are to guide them gently so as to nourish and draw out from their talent”. I thought later that for Conleth asking me to display the work implied that our talents when drawn from within are to be gifts of beauty for others where God becomes a visible sign for that moment anyhow.
Each time I go into a class my years in Froebel stand to me and the importance of respect to be shown for the work children produce must be prominent. I was always somewhat chuffed when after displaying children’s work on a notice board I almost always had the comment from an older member of staff or a principal, “you would know that you were a Froebel teacher”. For this gift I do thank those sisters who enabled it to be so and I am deeply proud that I became a Froebel teacher!
Sr Edel Murphy OP
On 29 April in St Dominic’s Parish, Tallaght, Sr. Eileen O’Connell spoke about her Dominican Vocation
Thank you Fr Larry for inviting me. I’m very glad to be here celebrating the Feast of St. Catherine with you. I am also a little nervous so please bear with me.
My name is Eileen. I made temporary profession as a Dominican Sister in February.
Despite always having belief and faith in God, I don’t remember ever wanting to be a sister or a nun. My sense of call came suddenly and to me totally unexpectedly. At the time, I felt it came out of the blue and I was somewhat up scuttled by its urgency.
Looking back, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me. It seems as if God had been gently drawing me to this way, long before it entered my awareness.
I had chosen, a Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena, as my confirmation saint. I had visited her tomb on a holiday in Rome. I had unwittingly been in the cathedral in Carcassonne where St. Dominic preached. As a child, we regularly visited St. Mary’s Priory in Cork city for confession because both my mum and her sister loved going to the Dominicans for confession! And, although I was taken aback, it certainly wasn’t surprising news to anyone else!
Before I say more of that, I would like to say a little about me. Sadly, I have no accent, but I am a proud Cork woman! I grew up in the countryside, just a mile from Ballincollig, so I had the best of both worlds – rural surroundings but not isolated. I have only one brother, a little younger than me, but we were lucky to have lots of cousins close to us in age and also living in Ballincollig. I went to the local girls’ National School and then to Ballincollig Community School, both of which had a strong Catholic ethos at that time. Growing up, our parents passed on a strong commitment to God and to the Church. We prayed the Rosary each night as a family and I enjoyed going to Mass and to the Church. Unusually, I suppose in our culture and times, I never lost touch with the Church and I have been blessed that my faith has not left me, nor I it. I have always known God to be with me, even when I felt God might have been better off elsewhere.
While I was still in school, I met Sr Elizabeth, an Infant Jesus Sisters (in Cork, at least, many know them as ‘the Drishanes’). Sr Elizabeth knew my mother from a parish retreat and invited me to work with her in one of her parish ministries. We worked together on various things for over 25 years until I moved to the novitiate. Sister Elizabeth is not someone you say no to! In later years, I did various things with our parish sister, a Bon Secours, and with the priests in our parish. While we became good friends and I enjoyed working with them and admired them, I didn’t have any sense of wanting to be what they were – at least not for a long time.
For some reason, things began to change for me around the year 2010. While I always had a sense of God’s presence, the desire to know God better became increasingly strong, almost urgent. I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, ten-days that proved life-changing. There, I had an experience that left me feeling God wanted more from me. I had no idea what that more might be so asked advice from a good friend. He suggested make a commitment to remaining open and give God time. How would I do this: by saying ‘yes’ to whatever I was asked – in as far as it was practical – in this way, I could become aware of what God might want of me – Wise advice. I had always been a thinker. Now, I began to go with my instincts – I made decisions and said yes to things without thinking them to death! I followed my heart! For example: I applied to do a Certificate in Holistic Spiritualty in Ennismore Retreat Centre, Cork, without knowing what the course would entail, because I knew I had to do it. I had never done an Alpha course; now I agreed to be on the Alpha team running a course in my parish. In Alpha, they say that the small group discussions are where God really works. I found these incredibly exciting and life giving. Courses on Scripture and the programme in Ennismore had a similar effect on me as the discussions at Alpha. I couldn’t get enough of them. I began to attend more and more courses and talks on scripture and various faith-related topics. There was more going on than I had free time for! It felt as if my desire for God and ‘God stuff’ was becoming greater and greater and my hunger for knowing God seemed insatiable. While doing the programme in Ennismore I realised very clearly that I had fallen in love with God and that I was no longer satisfied with a life that wasn’t very full of God. Then, I began to really spend time asking God to show me in some very obvious way what to do. It seemed as if God answered quite quickly and clearly – the wish to ‘check out the Dominicans’ came into my head. At the time, although I knew the friars in Ennismore, I didn’t really know of female Dominicans. I tried to ignore it, but the idea wouldn’t let me go. It was so strong and unrelenting that a few weeks later, I contacted the vocations coordinator and subsequently arranged to meet her.
After our first meeting in March 2011, I returned home knowing that I needed to meet again. In some way that made no sense, everything I learned about the Dominicans seemed to make sense to me and I felt I needed to continue exploring.
That July, I asked to begin the pre-novitiate programme, which started that September. Over the next 15 months, I attended Assemblies, a Congregation Course, visited various houses and stayed with several communities. Repeatedly, I was struck by how at home I felt. The sense that this might be right for me grew stronger and surer so that the decision to ask to enter novitiate became inevitable. I knew leaving my family and my home would be difficult, but I knew also that I had to try, that if I didn’t I couldn’t be at peace.
I began my novitiate in January 2013, with little idea of what was ahead, but with a firm trust that whatever it was, God would be with me in it.
Recently, I read this description by a novice with an English congregation – I quote:
“Entering religious life was a decision born of love. It was an acknowledgement that my life has slowly and concretely rearranged itself around the love of God, and around that relationship as the one I prize above all else.”
Novitiate is a very special time. For us, novitiate is two years. While no two days are the same, every day is framed by praying of the Divine Office together, Mass and personal prayer. It is a time to embrace Dominican life, with its four pillars – prayer, study, community, and ministry. Perhaps, the greatest way of growing as a Dominican is through the everyday living out of Dominican life with one’s sisters in community.
The novitiate provides the opportunity to see that we are Dominicans in every part of our lives, be these ordinary or extraordinary, and in everything we do, including the everyday tasks of living: cooking, shopping, household duties.
An American Dominican novice describes it as “the opportunity to fall in love with Christ and to allow that to permeate every part of my life and not just a section of it.”
For me, all of life in the novitiate, both the extraordinary experiences and the sometimes mundane daily living, were my discernment. This time allowed a deepening of my relationship with God and gave me the space and opportunity to listen to God.
During my novitiate, I was privileged to receive many enriching opportunities. I also faced times of loneliness, struggle, worry, questioning and doubts. Yet, even then, I knew that I needed and wanted to stay. For me, the sense of call, of being where God means me to be, and where I need to be, changed and deepened and grew stronger.
Over this time, I learned more of my love of God and more about myself. It became increasingly obvious to me how at home, happy and content I was living this life.
In my head, it didn’t make much sense, but, in my heart and deepest self, it made absolute sense: I had a strong desire to continue in Dominican life, to serve God in the way of St. Dominic. I made First Profession with both joy and peace – and also with the hope that I will continue to grow into my relationship with God.
In March, after I made profession, I left Tallaght; I moved to the Northside, changing community, ministry, parish, surroundings. Please God, this is the first of many moves – as followers of St. Dominic, we are called to be mobile for mission, to be willing to go where God and the world needs us. This transition time is not an easy one, but I find myself carried both by the familiarity of community prayer and Mass and by the prayers, support and love of my sisters. I am sustained also by trust in my God who walks with me always, who always has and who always will – so I will finish with these words from Deuteronomy
“Remember how the Lord your God has carried you, as one carries a child, all along the road you have travelled to reach the place you are now”
Sr Eileen O’Connell O.P
Below is article from The Irish Times by Breda O’Brien on Sr. Barnabas Kett OP who died on 1st February 2015.
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that you worked closely with thousands of people, and your phenomenal memory allowed you not only to remember the vast majority of them, but also their families, spouses and children.
Imagine that you also had a unique ability to make and maintain vibrant connections with dozens of friends and family of all ages. Imagine possessing highly honed intuition of a kind that prompted contact with people when they most needed words of encouragement.
Finally, imagine that, although you suffered from poor health for much of your life, you retained all your faculties and were as sharp as a tack right up to the age of 98.
Until last Sunday, when she closed her eyes for the last time, those of us privileged to be connected with the Dominican Sisters in Muckross Park, Donnybrook, did not have to use our imaginations.
We simply looked in awe at the human dynamo that was Sr Barnabas Kett OP, known to everyone as Barnie. The convent in Muckross is full of exceptional women, but none of them would begrudge praise given to her, as they grieve for her just as much as her beloved family of origin do.
Barnie was the beating heart of the Muckross Past Pupils’ Union. The current newsletter, Muckross Mail, features a tribute full of affection and grief – emotions mirrored at her huge funeral last Wednesday.
As many people reminded me at her removal and funeral, when Barnie had a plan that involved you, it was best to capitulate immediately. Resistance was always futile.
Her brain teemed with schemes, which fell into two rough categories – things that she believed would be good for Muckross Park, or for one of the people she cared about.
How was she to achieve these two goals unless she managed to persuade someone to make use of the talents God had given them?
She worked her phone in a way that made American political activists look like rank amateurs. At nine or ten o’clock at night, the call would come. Often, there was no preamble, just a simple command or announcement.
Her immense personal warmth, and a smile that could have melted polar icecaps, meant that capitulation usually happened with good grace. It probably helped, too, that the person she phoned was just as often a recipient of care, and not merely always a conscripted accomplice.
Barnie was a person of deep feeling, yet utterly devoid of sentimentality. And sometimes she could be too tough. If you were a young teacher, and she felt you were failing to communicate a topic to a pupil, you might get the rough edge of her tongue.
Pupils who were acting up would receive the same treatment. And yet, one past pupil now in her 30s told me that Barnie was the first adult who ever apologised to her.
Barnie had walked into a classroom where there was a row, and jumped to conclusions about who was guilty.
The past pupil tried to point out that Barnie had not got the full picture, and got a tongue lashing. But later, Barnie returned to apologise, an event that left a deep impression.
Born in Clare in 1917, Barnie’s connection with Muckross Park began at eight, when she came to the school as a boarder. She made her religious vows with the Dominicans in 1941. At the time, the Dominican Sisters were fully enclosed, not even allowed out for family funerals. Then came the late 1960s. Enclosure ended, and those feisty women adapted gracefully and, perhaps in some cases, gleefully to a wider world.
The Dominicans have always had a profound commitment to educating women. When the primary and secondary schools opened in Muckross Park in 1900, they also ran lectures for women undergraduates, who in a classic catch 22 had been allowed to sit university exams, but not to attend lectures. If you can’t join them, outmaneuver them, seems to have been the philosophy.
Like all the sisters who taught, Barnie believed that education was the key to a good life, one where you could be useful. For example, she organised driving lessons in the 1960s for sixth years, all part of her grand plan to make those young women independent, participating citizens. She also promoted sex education long before it was mandatory.
She organised exchanges with French schools, and instituted Muckross’s involvement with Lourdes. The pilgrimages where teenagers worked selflessly with the elderly and the sick proved life-changing for many, and some return every year.
She would have been so proud of the current pupils ranged along the railings in a guard of honour at her funeral, immaculate in their green and black. Her dearest wish for them, and for all whom she loved, would have been that they continue the tradition of veritas , the school motto, and that they would find their way to the truth that sets all human beings free.
The final lines of an eloquent poem written for Barnie by Valerie Cox, RTÉ reporter and past pupil, speak for many of us: “Your work is done/Go, with our love.”
From Irish Times 7th February 2015 . See more at www.irishtimes.com