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Thursday 20 September 2018

Opinion: Nourishment for the mind and spirit as well as the body

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy. Photo: Photocall Ireland
Sister Stanislaus Kennedy. Photo: Photocall Ireland
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Sister Stan was last week's guest on the riveting Lenten slot 'What's It All About?' on Ivan Yates' drivetime radio show on Newstalk.

The most striking aspect of the interview, conducted by Kieran Cuddihy, was her honesty.

Born Treasa Kennedy in 1939, her parents were small farmers in Lispole, Co Kerry. From a young age, she was aware of differences between those who "had" something, like shopkeepers and farmers, and others who didn't, like farm labourers.

She wanted to help the poor, especially children, so joined the Sisters of Charity.

At the time, social work as is now recognised didn't exist. If doing it over again today, Sr Stan said she probably would not have become a nun, more likely a lay missionary.

She also admitted that she has many questions about the Church and that this questioning gets amplified as she gets older.

It was heartening to hear that hers is not an unquestioning faith.

Not so long ago, a prominent member of religious life would have been unlikely to acknowledge such lack of certainty but, in a world increasingly characterised by widespread uncertainty, that admission resonates.

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Sr Stan believes the most worrying aspect is the declining level of participation by lay people in the Catholic Church - the distance between the Church and its members.

A week earlier, I attended the most beautiful funeral service I have ever been to - it was for a Kilkenny man named Padraic Kirwan.

Born in 1926, Padraic contracted TB in his leg as a young man, which necessitated nine operations. While these were ongoing, he made a vow to God that, if he got to walk again, he would sing His praises for as long as he was able.

Padraic was as good as his word, literally, as he climbed the winding metal stairs to sing in the Church choir in Thomastown, until he was 85.

Padraic was very involved in the broader Church and community. He was also an entrepreneur, successfully establishing Ireland's first privately-owned trout farm, Goatsbridge, with his wife, Rita, and was fully involved in raising their family.

Their 50-acre farm had a water resource and Padraic had initially dabbled in mink farming but changed when his mother-in-law pointed out that "you only buy a fur coat once in your lifetime but you would eat fish every week".

The funeral Mass was led by the parish priest, Fr Bollard, who clearly knew Padraic well and held him in high regard. The priest's speech was a good length and balanced, as was the eulogy delivered by his daughter Brideen, who has taken over the mantle in the choir and praising God through song.

The priest's opening words were: "When you sing, you pray twice". The choir sang divinely and I was delighted that the congregation joined in.

From beginning to end - including well-chosen readings, prayers of the faithful and dignified additional offertory gifts - the Mass exuded a sense of love, grace and peace.

There was loss but this was outweighed by a sense of celebration. Padraic overcame significant personal challenge and went on to live a full, rich life. An intrinsic element of this life was a strong faith and Padraic believed that he was going straight to Heaven.

I envy this strength of faith, which is becoming less common. Now there is more emphasis on personal fulfilment.

Whether your are religious or not, the following Lenten words from Sr Stan offer meaning.

"Nourish your body with healthy food and exercise. Nourish your mind with good literature, art and company. Nourish your spirit with silence, stillness and prayer."

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