Laity day in Ireland

The first Laity Day , organised by the Lay Companions was a very special occasion for Sisters and Companions in Ireland. There have been many such gatherings in the recent years, organised and supported by the sisters, always well attended, but this was the first time the Companions had taken responsibility for a nationwide gathering themselves. A group of about 30 sisters and companions gathered on 25th June in the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre for a day of sharing and companionship. Four people from the various groups organised and planned the day, Margaret Dalton from Dublin, John Cronin from Cork, David Keane from Galway and Geraldine Carey van Dam from Limerick.

Choosing a topic for the day was the first task. One of the members of the organising group felt that the people in her group would very much like to choose a subject that is relevant to the lives of the people we meet while living our charism as Little Sisters and Companions in our everyday lives. We all agreed with this and we also agreed that the gathering would be held outside Dublin. Our speaker, Mary Fitzpatrick, lives in Limerick which is why we chose to meet there.
 
As the day began, we were very aware that it was the last day of the General Chapter. It was the eve of the Feast of Corpus Christi and we were later to celebrate the Mass of that feast. We began with prayer, gathering together as the Body of Christ, those present and those at the Chapter, in communion with the living and the dead and in particular Sr. Lucy and Dermot of the Cork Group who had both died since our gathering last year. May they rest in eternal peace. 
 
Our subject for the day was challenging and sombre. Mary Fitzpatrick, our speaker, whose son Mikey was killed a short distance from her home, spoke to us about ‘Lost Futures’, a group she founded to support parents whose children had died. Mary took us through her journey from her son’s early life, through the grief she experienced after his death to reconciliation and the finding of her support group.
The day was structured in a way that helped us to deal with the sadness of loss, get understanding of people who are bereaved by the death of a child and also get some practical information which may help people we may meet who are dealing with such losses. In taking care of our own needs, we were very careful to handle the programme for the day in a way that left people grounded when we left for home. After prayer we asked Mary to tell her story, allowed time for questions before lunch, and after lunch continued with the subject of reconciliation and some practical information before Mass. 
 
Mary’s Story
 
Mary told us of her time with Mikey as a young mother and child, a single parent at that time, whose own parents were close to her and supportive, of the love given and received from Mikey and of his kindness to his younger siblings who came along later. She described the night, exactly twelve years earlier, on 25th June 1999, when he was brutally stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack and shared with honesty her agonising journey through the pain of being with him as he was waiting, bleeding heavily for an ambulance to arrive. She went on to tell us that although he was not pronounced dead until later the following morning, Mary felt the life leave her son and knew he was dead even while the paramedics and hospital staff were trying to work on him. She spoke about waiting in the hospital for the news she knew would come , of the funeral of her son and the unreality of it all in the days, weeks and months that followed Mikey’s death. 
Mary also told us of the taunts of her son’s killer and his family and how a growing sense of loss and hopelessness was driving her to despair. She described suicidal feelings and was contemplating taking her own life for quite some time. She told us of a whole myriad of emotions, anger, sadness, envy and of the physical pain that she felt, which she said was stronger than the pain of childbirth, because of her grief. When she finally had enough, she decided to take her own life by taking an overdose of her sleeping tablets, and was about to do so until she went to day goodbye to her youngest child, whom she saw sleeping and knew she couldn’t do it. That was the beginning of Mary’s road to reconciliation and to finding some peace.
Having told her story, Mary allowed us to ask questions and make comments. It was amazing how well we as a group handled such a difficult subject and how Mary dealt with our comments and questions.
 
Lunch Break
 
Because the topic we were engaging in was weighty, we planned that the lunch break would be a long one, one and a half hours. This was also a time for us to gather, share our food and have time to be together and to catch up with old friends. Most of us went first, to the Limerick City Market and enjoyed the various stalls with homemade food, craft, flowers and other delights. A number of people went around the various shops in the city and some just took some fresh air and relaxed.
We shared our bread and drank several cups of tea, before returning to the subject of reconciliation. We had a most relaxing lunch break, shopping, eating and drinking and generally enjoying each other’s company.
 
Reconciliation and ‘Lost Futures’
 
Immediately after lunch, Mary spoke about reconciliation. She talked again about the night she looked at her youngest child sleeping and how she knew that she had to go on. Although she knew she was not healed, Mary also knew that something had changed in her that night. 
Sometime afterwards, Mary went to Lourdes, having been persuaded to do so by a priest in her parish. While there, Mary felt a very strong connection between her life and the life of Mary the Mother of God and saw they had gone through such similar experiences. She started to relate to Mary as ‘one mother to another’ and somehow found strength to go on. Each year she returns with an organised pilgrimage from ‘Lost Futures’. While there the first time, Mary planted a tree in Mikey’s memory. She began to realise that whenever she thought of her beloved son, her killer was always in her head with him. She wanted that to stop. She did not want that other person ‘to live in her head’. She knew that she would need to forgive, but also that this would not be easy. It is still a struggle each day, but Mary believes that it is the only thing that brings peace. Her faith in God and her devotion to Mary is a great help to her on this journey. She can now remember and see her son, as he was, without also seeing his killer.
Mary told us how she, with the help of Fr. Joe Young, the priest who encouraged her to go to Lourdes, started the group ‘Lost Futures’ to support other parents whose children have died, no matter what the circumstances of their deaths. She gave us some practical information about this group and how to contact them and also made herself available to anyone in the group who may wish to speak to her. 
We finished our day, together with Mary, by celebrating the Mass of the Feast of Corpus Christi. We were joined by Fr. Pat Seaver, who presided and helped greatly to make our celebration of eucharist very special and meaningful. Mass was offered for Sr. Lucy and Dermot and we also included Mary’s son Mikey, whose anniversary occurred at that time. All were remembered with love and affection and our communion reflection was a poem written by John Cronin about Sr. Lucy and Dermot. 
 
Although we spent our day dealing with a very difficult, emotive subject, we all left feeling satisfied with the experience, greatly enriched and truly inspired by Mary Fitzpatrick, all united as the Body of Christ with each other and those who have gone before us, united also in our very special charism. That day had embraced the subject of the family, life’s struggles and the hope the Assumption gives to us – that we can rise above life’s difficulties, even under the most awful of circumstances.
 
Thanks
 
We wish to express our sincere thanks to all who made the day a success. We thank Mary Keenan and the Provincial Team for their encouragement and support and their generous contribution to the expenses incurred. We are fortunate to have such a supportive team behind us as we try to develop and grow together. The attendance on the day was very good and John, David, Margaret and myself are very grateful to all who travelled to be with us and mention in particular the large number of sisters who joined us including Maria Flynn and Eithne Grant who came to us for the day on route to their holiday in Kerry , Sr. Lena Deevy who is a great support to the lay companions and was with us from Boston. We thank the Limerick Pastoral Centre for making us so welcome and Fr. Pat for helping to truly celebrate the Body of Christ. It goes without saying that the day would not have happened with Mary Fitzpatrick. We thank her for her time, her honesty, her generous offer of support and for her courage. We wish her peace and happiness and every blessing.
 
Geraldine Carey van Dam
 
27/10/2011
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