England/Wales - ’A NOVITIATE FOR HEAVEN’ - LSA voices from England and Wales

Were you to arrive in Mount Carmel Residential Home in Derby and ask to see Sister Bernadette McEvoy you might be told ’she is on an interview panel today’. If you look surprised a carer will tell you: ’we have a rota of residents for interview panels – after all they have a particular knowledge of what is needed in staff members’. 
 
This gives a flavour of the atmosphere in this Residential Home, which was built by the Mercy Sisters over twenty years ago. As far as is possible, residents are encouraged to play their part in running the house and to engage in activities. Three of our sisters live here (two of them are in Beaumont House adjacent to Mount Carmel). They appreciate the quality of the care and the friendliness of the staff ’in an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace’. They are also happy to have Mass three times a week. They miss the ’spiritual dimension’ that would be shared in common in community. But, for Bernadette, it’s like a ’Novitiate for Heaven’. ’There is really only one option – total submission and reliance on the overwhelming love and care of our Father in heaven, of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit, one’s personal intimacy with God and utter trust.’ 
 
 
She is aware of limitations – ’where one’s horizons can shrink, where you cannot go out unless accompanied … Confined living isn’t easy in some circumstances but the experience of community living helps us to see Jesus in everyday scenes’. ’There are many residents here over 90 – it must be a shock for them to realize that their families, their children for whom they had given their lives, can no longer take care of them. ... It is here that one relies on the foundations of faith, trust, hope and, above all, love – what each of us has learned and which we practise to the best of our abilities (mostly!) in our consecrated lives. Now we are at the receiving end, we who have nearly always been in control to a certain extent – even in our giving.’ Bernadette continues to live out her consecration in these changed circumstances. ’I must decrease and allow Jesus to increase in me.’ 
 
In being true to our LSA charism, she finds support in Father Pernet’s prayer: 
’Lord show me what I should see, 
Inspire me with what I should say,
Uphold me in all that I do.’ 
 
As she struggles daily with the ongoing ’nigglings’ and monotony, she remembers her ’funny bone’ and humour transforms the situation. She is happy to have this time to reflect on essentials. ’This is our God calling each of us to let go, to let God.. It is a second Novitiate. I ask myself: where am I now with all the years behind me? Is Jesus first? It is a time to recap, to really reciprocate His love and be completely absorbed into the Father’s Will. I find echoes of Fr Pernet in the words of Pope Francis to young Belgian pilgrims: "give witness with simplicity and humility, show people who you are without triumphalism" ’.
 
 
Crossing from England to Wales we move towards Pantasaph and visit Sister Aidan Hayden and Sister Maeve White in Bryn Mair Care Home, Pantasaph. Both are happy to be back in Wales because each spent many years there on mission – Aidan had lived in Holywell for 46years while Maeve had been in Llanelli for twenty-nine years – seventy-five years of missionary living. 
 
Leaving Kingstanding evoked different memories and experiences for each one. 
Aidan’s stay in Kingstanding had been short – less than two years. Even though she had lived in Wales for forty-six years it was mostly during the period when Wales was part of the Irish-Welsh Province. The Anglo-Scottish Province, though close by, was separate and because interaction between both was quite limited Aidan did not know the community in Kingstanding. Uprooting after four and a half decades was very painful. The ’unknown territory’ left her with ’a feeling of being in the desert, like the Israelites in exile, at a time of loss of the familiar – my only brother died in Ireland, the community in Holywell was closed. Even though I was with Little Sisters I experienced a sense of abandonment’. 
 
When Kingstanding community closed she was happy to return to Pantasaph in September 2012. Being close to the people whom she had served gave her a renewed sense of mission. The welcome she received was wonderful to witness. She is happy to be in Bryn Mair but misses the presence of an LSA community. 
 
Maeve, on the other hand, had spent many years in Kingstanding after the closing of the house in Llanelli and thought it would be her final resting place. Now, aged ninety, she recalls memories of her stay in Merantais; she still sees life as she did then, with awe, as an adventure when she was, and is, open to where God would lead her.
Like Aidan, returning to Wales was a source of joy for her. She had already said good-bye to her native Dublin. Bryn Mair residents are mostly Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy, with a few old residents of Holywell. Having daily Mass is a privilege. She and Aidan appreciate the kindness of the staff and the atmosphere within a rural setting. There are regular bus trips to places of interest – museums, castles or shopping centres. Both love the Welsh landscape. In all these gifts they see ’a confirmation of the faithfulness of God throughout a lifetime’ and they know it will continue ’until the day when the daystar arises’. 
 
All their spiritual and temporal needs are met and they are always ready to welcome the visits of any sisters from the Province and, of course, they see Sister Catherine Cahill almost on a daily basis when she attends Mass.
In Cannock Sister Frances Scully enjoys the comfort and care of the staff in the Lakeside care home where she went earlier this year after her discharge from hospital. The legacy of Sister Kathleen Brennan who died there in 2012 lives on in the hearts of the staff: music and song was what brought peace to many by Kathleen’s sharing even though she never spoke one word. She communicated the love of God in a very powerful way by her smile of gratitude, and Francis is now doing likewise. Her presence there is a powerful statement to those who are trying to find God in the ordinary events of daily life, and the kindness and love that surround her speak of Jesus Christ. 
 
Brighton, another care home run by the Mercy Sisters (the same congregation as in Derby) became home to Sisters Kathleen, Valerie and Julie in 2012. There the atmosphere is somewhat similar to that of Derby where the religious spirit is tangible even though the carers are no longer the sisters themselves. 
 
Sister Clare Deane is in Southport where she has been living with the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. She is the last surviving Little Sister of the Assumption of those who moved there from Liverpool when our house there was closed. Many of the sisters are in their nineties and when Clare celebrated her Diamond Jubilee last year we all felt that the spirit of St Vincent de Paul and Fr Etienne Pernet was shared by one and all in our love and attachment to the poor and little ones. 
The links forged by our two congregations are strong and Clare is totally immersed in the community life and prayer of the sisters there. Clare has had ample scope for her artistic talent and many of the walls are adorned by her magnificent paintings. Her love of beauty is enhanced daily by the beauty of her surroundings which she fully appreciates and, even though many of her companions are frail, their capacity to live and love grows daily in the atmosphere of loving acceptance. 
 
None of us knows where the future will take us but we know that ’whatever happens or wherever we may be, Providence will always rise before the Dawn’, and together we pray that we may always be united in Love and in Truth. 
 
Bernadette, Aidan, Maeve, Valérie, Francis and Clare
19/08/2014
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