independent

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Life is beautiful for the Poor Clare sisters

Olivia Ryan

Published 12/07/2014 | 12:00

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Sister Pam and Sister Briege. Photo: Ken Finegan

A DECADE after an ancient form of Celtic Monastic life was quietly re-born in the hills of Faughart, the forward-thinking Poor Clare sisters admit they haven't escaped all the trappings of modern life.

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'I write music, religious music, which is sold on iTunes, and we do like to keep in touch with people through our Facebook page,' says Sr. Briege O'Hare, one of the original residents of the idyllic grounds where the monastery was built.

It's been ten years since the Argus first visited the sisters, who in June 2004 had just opened the monastery feted as effectively recreating a 1,000-year-old Cetlic tradition, not practised in Ireland for a millennium.

'Some things have changed, we have grown in numbers for one. We had five permanent residents then, now we are seven, with more women enquiring,' added Sr. Briege.

One of the newer residents, Sr. Pam, explains how she came across the Argus special feature on the Faughart monastery when she was at a cross roads in her own life.

An American native, she was a Professor at the University of Dayton, Ohio, when she heard an Irish nun, Sr. Briege, was visiting her Franciscan community.

'All of my religious life I had wondered about Clare, and I was really interested in this eremitical way of life, but I couldn't find any information at all on it. Then I came across the Argus article online!'

From there, Sr. Pam found herself following a path that led her directly to remote place just north of Dundalk.

'I moved over here in 2007. I had never even been in Ireland before! But I just loved it from the very beginning. The uniqueness of this way of life...it is incredible. I am surprised women are not queuing at the gates!'

The eremitical tradition, adds Sr. Briege, combines the solemnness and sacredness of religious life with both companionship and individual freedom.

'It is in contrast, I suppose, to the institutions that religious orders have lived in for centuries,' she adds.

The monastic lifestyle means the sisters spend hours each morning within their individual 'hermitages' in silence and prayer.

Their afternoons then are devoted to 'spiritual direction' they provide for callers to the monastery, members of the public, religious and non-religious, who often come seeking solace and support in difficult times.

'We have many, many callers, and we welcome that. It is a privilege to be on another's journey, and God's will that they come to us seeking support,' added Sr. Rose.

The sisters admit that while life in the monastery is one of peace and serenity, they know full well how the demands and stresses of the modern day world impact.

'People are facing such terrible difficulties at times, and they don't know where to turn.

'At the same time there is real rebirth of the quest for human consciousness nowadays. All of us know there is something more within us, and I think that hunger for a deeper understanding of ourselves, something more than the madness of everyday life, brings people to places like this.'

Devoted also to 'honouring our own soul' the sisters use their time to indulge in their own creative and musical interests, from painting and photography to writing music.

'It is a blessing to have that freedom to explore our own talents too,' adds Sr. Rose.

IN the weeks before the Argus revisits the monastery, the sisters held a special event, a casual, if unique gathering for women who had all expressed interest in learning more about the celtic monastic tradition.

'We decided to hold a barbeque, and put it up on our Facebook page.

'To be honest we didn't know what sort of response we would have, but were taken back by the number of women who came along,' said Sr. Briege.

Among the gathering, of mainly young women, she added 'were the beginnings of something new'.

Briege speaks of a new movement, the 'Rise of the Roses' which encourages and supports women who are considering religious life.

'It's fair to say we are in an era now where there have been very few women joining religious orders. And yet here we are seeing so much interest from women in the monastic traditions we have here.'

She admits that if these 'enquiries' to turn into new additions to the order, the monastery will have to expand.

'We have already built an extension on since we first opened ten years ago, and a new building at the back, so we could accommodate 11 residents. But if numbers grow, we would have to look at a second monastery.'

And when it comes to funding for such projects, the sisters say they have always 'put their faith in God' that they will be provided for.

Having taken a vow of poverty, they don't have money. Neither do they fundraise or appeal for support.

'But help is always there for us when we needed it,' added Sr. Briege. Such faith goes back to their original move to Louth from County Kildare.

Having found themselves effectively homeless and without any financial support, they turned to the power of prayer, which soon proved fruitful.

'Within two days we had been given a two acres site here in Faughart, and received a very generous anonymous donation. To this day we have very much to thank that person for.'

The Faughart site was 'exactly where God meant us to be' said Sr. Briege 'close to where St. Brigid was born, as it was Brigid who was the foundress of women's religious life in Ireland.'

They honour too St Moninna, one of Ireland's earliest female saints, who also founded the eremitical tradition locally.

With all of their faith, the contemplative lifestyle, and the dedication of their lives to God, it doesn't take long for these inspiring women to speak of their joy at living in Faughart.

'This last decade have been the happiest years, it's a true blessing to be here.'

The Argus

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