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Saturday 19 January 2019

Loreto sisters finish up their training in Bray

 

Loreto sisters at the end of their formation in Bray. Back: Sister Lucy Nderi, Sister Zofia Rusnakova, Sister Chris Goodman, team leader Sister Orla Treacy, Sister Veneranda Lusuli and team leader Sister Margo Mulvey. Front: Sister Anima Kujur, Sister Genevieve Maigrot and Sister Gloria Lakra.
Loreto sisters at the end of their formation in Bray. Back: Sister Lucy Nderi, Sister Zofia Rusnakova, Sister Chris Goodman, team leader Sister Orla Treacy, Sister Veneranda Lusuli and team leader Sister Margo Mulvey. Front: Sister Anima Kujur, Sister Genevieve Maigrot and Sister Gloria Lakra.
Sister Orla Treacy

Tertianship. It is a word not used in everyday conversation around Bray, except perhaps in the convent off the Vevay Road where Sister Chris Goodman is in genial command of a group of colleagues.

She is even so good as to spell it - I just hope I took it down correctly. Tertianship.

'It is a programme all Loreto sisters have to follow,' she says, explaining that it is the custom for the nuns of her order to take time out from their careers ten to fifteen years after making their final profession.

The idea is the step back from the busy world of work to take time for reflection, prayer and pilgrimage.

The concept chimes in nicely with a similar practice which is in the norm among their kindred male spirits in the Jesuit order.

So it comes about that the convent is playing host at the moment to eight women from around the world as they undergo six months of tertianship, Irish style.

They come from India, from Mauritius, from Kenya and from the Czech Republic to participate.

Their number also includes one of our own, a past pupil of the adjoining school in Bray, who these days calls South Sudan home.

The Loreto order is not much more than 800 strong world-wide but it is a hugely influential organisation in a number of regions.

That influence has been felt in some cases since the first half of the 19th century while, in others, the sisters are pioneers often hostile surroundings.

Most of those assembled here in County Wicklow have never met before and most have never been in Ireland before.

The majority of the eight are teachers, though some are employed in administration work as their order brings education to women in many countries.

They are not united by the wearing of any uniform habit - no veils or flowing habits for this bunch - yet it is clear that they have quickly found themselves friends.

The good-natured teasing and mutual encouragement as they submit to Barbara Flynn's group photo shoot suggests that they have bonded quickly and easily as a unit.

Natives of Bray may take the place a little for granted but their reverend guests are full of praise for the town and its people.

They all stress the friendliness of the welcome they have received while clearly taken with the appearance of the town.

And the one thing that impresses all of them is the proximity of the sea: 'By the sea, we feel the presence of God,' says one.

Sister Lucy Nderi from Kenya in East Africa has been working in Ghana on the other side of the continent for the past 12 years

Among the first things that she arranged after arriving in Ireland was a trip to the Loreto house in Rathfarnham.

There she met two old friends, Loreto sisters retired from their work abroad whose example helped to form her own faith and sense of mission.

She recalls them as being hard-working, generous, self-giving and inspirational.

'I like the sea most,' she says, giving her first impression of Bray from a sitting room in the convent which looks out over the waves. 'We walk on the seafront, appreciating the work of nature - the stones and the sand, the dogs running about. We are supposed to find God in everything we see. We could have gone to Kenya, the UK or Rome but we chose Bray.'

Her tone of voice suggests that she has no regrets about the decision.'

She is at a crossroads in her career, taking a break from Ghana, to where she was dispatched in 2005 to help start at new mission.

While the Loreto is well established in her own country, she found a very different set-up in East Africa.

She and three other nuns opened up a school four hours drive from the capital city Accra, with 23 young scholars on the roll. They now have 850 on the books.

The students are defying old prejudices by remaining in education through their teenage years in an area where local tradition for long favoured early school leaving for girls.

Sister Veneranda Lusuli, also Kenyan, recalls that she heard tales of Ireland from the likes of Sister Stephanie O'Brien during her schooldays.

Now she looks forward to meeting Stephanie again, this time in Gorey, along with another inspirational sister, Miriam Martin.

Veneranda presides over the Valley Road Convent school in Nairobi which has 350 students, one of three Loreto schools across Kenya.

She reveals proudly that one of her former pupils recently professed as a nun.

It appears that, though vocations have nosedived in Ireland, new life is being breathed into the order in developing countries.

The head of Valley Road pooh-poohs the notion of wearing voluminous habits: We should be identified 'by our actions', not clothes, she says.

Sister Genevieve Maigrot hails from Mauritius, a country famous for its warm Indian Ocean beaches.

But she comes to Irelands determined to make the most of the waters here too, having packed her swim suit: 'We enjoy the sea here,' she muses, 'and each day we see a different aspect of the sea.'

On reflection, after enjoying days of storm and chilly fog, she reckons that the swim-suit may not be unpacked until May or so.

She is also struck by the festive decorations: 'You have real Christmas trees,' she exclaims in delight.

Genevieve - the name reflects her French ancestry - is an administrator directing operations in the order's network of one infant, two primary and seven secondary schools on her island.

This is no overnight enterprise. The Loreto first arrived on those far off shores 170 years ago and many Irish nuns took classes there over the decades.

Mauritius was just one of the far flung places to feel the dynamic impact of Sister Teresa Ball, the Dubliner made who the Loreto a truly international brand.

She took an English foundation, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and gave it a cosmopolitan outlook.

Her first school was established at Rathfarnham in 1823 but within a few years, the sisters were being scattered around the globe.

So it is that Sister Genevieve can claim to represent the fourth successive generation of her family to have benefitted from a Loreto schooling.

And so it is that Sister Antima Kujur finds herself running a school in Darjeeling, in the north of India, where the order has been active since the 1840s.

The heritage includes the contribution of the late Sister Rosario who died in Bray after introducing the young ladies of Darjeeling to hockey, a sport at which they continue to excel.

The school dates from 1926 and it has 1,646 pupils, sharing a campus with another school of similar size, with was founded in the 1840s.

Antima and her compatriot Sister Gloria Lakra both hail from Jharkhand, not too far from Kolkata, in a country where Christians make up less than five per cent of the billion strong population.

The sisters are delighted to be in Ireland, meeting up with old friends such as Moira Canning and Philomena Dowd, who both worked in India in the past.

Also enjoying her few months of tertianship is Sister Orla Treacy, who finds herself in very familiar surroundings after more than a decade in an environment which most people would find very forbidding.

She has been living and working in war-torn South Sudan, often cited as the third most dangerous country in the world, behind Syria and Afghanistan.

She is proud to declare that she is a Bray girl and that she received her secondary schooling here at the Vevay Road.

The programme is supervised by Chris Goodman, a Cavan native who used to be on the teaching staff in Bray.

These days she lives a very active retirement from the chalk face by helping out at the Living Life counselling centre as well as keeping tertianship on course.

She reports, without hiding her amazement, that the participating sisters have embraced traditional Irish Catholicism to the extent that they want to experience the self-denial routine at Lough Derg.

A more relaxed pilgrimage to Glendalough is also on the agenda.

While Bray is the base for much of the activity, they will all venture abroad to take a look around Loyola in Spain, home of Jesuit founder Ignatius.

Their stay in Europe will conclude with a visit to Rome.

Bray has been shaped in part by the Loreto but it is a two-way street and the order has in part been shaped by Bray.

The Loreto world council includes representatives from Kenya, India, United States and Spain, among other places.

Ireland is on the list too, with Sister Noelle Corscadden taking her place at the council table directing policy around the globe.

Sister Noelle, of course, was educated at Loreto Bray.

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