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The Companionship of Empowerment - A Mini-Sabbatical

1 December 2017


The Companionship of Empowerment/A Mini Sabbatical.

It started with an email from Rachel (in our provincial office) in the Autumn of 2016 and ended with The Dawn Mass on Easter Sunday 2017.  A brochure included with the email from Mount St. Anne’s Retreat Centre, Portarlington was attractive, the location in the heartlands of our country offered a ‘breathing space’, the title of the programme ‘Reflect, Refresh, Renew’  was inviting and the timing in the season of ‘new life and growth’ was appropriate.

Having been accepted to participate in the programme, Lelia (from my community) and I arrived at Mount St. Anne’s in the afternoon of March 16th.  Some of you may be familiar with Mount St. Anne’s but it was a first for both Lelia and myself.  It is an impressive nineteenth century Manor House, which has been home to the Presentation Sisters for many years and has been beautifully refurbished in the recent past. We were warmly welcomed by Sr. Anne McDermott, co-ordinator of the Mini Sabbatical Programme and by Marian, the centre manager. Thirteen participants had enrolled for the month-long course, eight Irish Sisters and five Australians. Not surprisingly the sisters were all elders and the five Australians, three ladies and two gentlemen, all from the Diocese of Melbourne, were highly energetic ‘young’ principals of primary schools.  At first glance it seemed a rather incongruous combination but we quickly gelled and over the next four weeks became good friends.

Initiation was gentle. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, became familiar with our new surroundings both the centre and the local area, the flatlands of Co. Laois being in striking contrast to the coastal counties of Cork and Kerry. Work commenced in earnest on Tuesday 21st and over the next four weeks we participated in ‘quiet time’ in the chapel, in ritual and liturgy and enjoyed the study of a variety of topics, some academic and challenging, others very much at soul level, all engaging and enriching. Over the four weeks we had nine different presenters, all expert on their own topic and all friendly. It was sheer joy to listen. We were also privileged to have a trip to Solas Bhride, in Kildare, a Centre for Celtic Spirituality run by the Brigidine Sisters, with a special focus on the spirit of St. Brigid. It was lovely to share their story, be recipients of their hospitality and our time of prayer at St. Brigid’s Well was very special. How fortunate we felt the following week as we set out for Glendalough knowing that we would be led through the day by Fr. Michael Rodgers. On arrival he was at hand to greet us. From the outset one felt in the presence of the ‘Sacred’ in the person of Fr. Michael and in the footsteps of St. Kevin. At one stage on our journey a raven hovered overhead, Fr. Michael graciously commented that the raven was welcoming the ‘prophets’! Our pilgrimage concluded with Mass in God’s Cottage. We felt truly blessed.

Pilgrims at Glendalough with Fr. Michael

Weekends offered some time for recreation. Our Australian friends were thrilled with the opportunity to see Ireland. They savoured the Ring of Kerry, Connemara, Donegal, Wicklow and Dublin, always arriving back on Sunday night full of joy and enthusiastic for the ‘subject’ scheduled for Monday – oh to be young again! We elders were more modest in our exploits but we too had fun weekends.  A group of us visited local places of interest. We enjoyed afternoons at the National Stud, in Newbridge, in Kildare Village, in Emo Court Gardens and in Mountmellick Heritage Museum where we had the opportunity to see some exquisite Mountmellick lace.

Our Sabbatical came to a conclusion with the Holy Week Ceremonies. The Seder Meal celebrated with the Community of Mount St. Anne’s brought us into the spirit of Passover. This was followed by a farewell/celebratory meal for the Sabbatical group. The celebration of the Easter Triduum was enriched by sharing with a group on retreat for those days. The creative ‘Way of the Cross’ which took place outdoors will long remain etched in my memory as will the Easter Vigil. Following the Vigil we said goodbye to our Australian friends as they were leaving for the airport in the early hours of the morning. We arose early too for the Dawn Mass and were joined by the local community, all of whom were treated to breakfast. Shortly after we took leave of our new found friends and set out for home feeling ‘refreshed and renewed’ from our stay and having enjoyed the care and kindness offered by the Sisters and Staff of Mount St. Anne’s.

Lelia lights the Paschal Candle

Be affirmed that:
‘The future of civilization lies with wise elders’ (Diarmuid O’Murchu MSC)

Genevieve Hurley RSM
Southern Province

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