Monday, November 16, 2009

Saint Leontia, Part I

After the SDI conference, I drove with Sally and her friend Father Terry Moran, to Newry, Northern Ireland. Terry, who resides in New Jersey, had an appointment with a certain Sister Tarcisius of the Poor Clares Convent.

Terry is writing a book on Sister Margaret Anna Cusack (M.A.C.), known as The Nun of Kenmare. She spent the earlier part of her life in this particular convent and Terry wanted to see if the grave of Mother O'Hagan, who had received M.A.C. into the community and eventually traveled with her to found another convent in Kenmare, was perhaps buried there. She was not but we discovered another poor soul who has spent centuries in a glass coffin, tucked away in the recesses of the room behind the main chapel. More about her later!

Meeting Terry was great. He serves on the board of SDI as does Sally and they've known each other for a few years. Terry has made over 20 trips to Ireland and he has the gift of not just learning about the people and the places that he visits but he remembers what he has learned. This makes him a magnificent storyteller. It is this aspect of traveling alone that reaps the most rewards - the aspect of meeting fabulous people - and Father Terrence Moran is one of those.

If I was disappointed with the "new face" of Ireland, well, let's just say that after we entered the Poor Clares Convent we instantly traveled back in time about 60 years! It was a delightful place to visit - but I'm not sure I'd want to live in such an old, drafty antique.

We were ushered into a small and dimly lit vestibule which was furnished with several chairs and a decidedly crooked table that was covered with various reading materials from several decades past plus a few holy medals and a small crucifix. A small handwritten sign said " Please take one" I did - I pocketed the crucifix as I already knew that this was going to be a memorable place.

Moments later Sister Tarcisius arrived and graciously ushered us into the parlor - which was freezing cold. She flipped the switch on the fireplace and we settled in as close as we could to the only source of heat for a short chat about Father Terry's business. "And sure, Father, why would you want to be writin' a book about Sister Cusack?" asked Sr. Tarcisius. It became readily apparent to all of us that dear Sr. Tarcisius was probably not a big fan of M.A.C. :)

When Terry gave his articulate response regarding the amazing accomplishments of "The Nun of Kenmare", and about how ahead of her time she was in writing the first biography of St. Francis in English, our hostess responded with "Ah well, Father, I'm not that much of a reader." I doubt our new friend will be pre-ordering a copy of Terry's book :)

"If three of us travel together, I shall find two teachers."  - Confucius
these are my two teachers - Sally and Terry

From there we started a tour of the grounds and the convent.  The only word I can use to describe this is "otherworldly".  This picture that I took of Sally and Terry at  the front of the convent is deceiving. It's plain facade hides a myriad of hallways, courtyards, gardens and graveyards. We were not allowed to take photos and my index finger was twitching for most of our tour of the convent but Sally kept reminding me to "behave." So I searched the internet for photos of our hostess, Sister Tarcisius and the convent itself to give you the feel of the place. These photos do not do either the convent or Sr. Tarcisius justice, but they will have to do.

this is what lies behind that pale yellow wall you saw above -
i did not take this picture but found it online.

an unflattering picture of Sr. Tarcisius but it was
the only one i could find - she is the first nun
on the left.  They are breaking ground on their new convent.

This plaque was on the outside of the convent. So this was the site
 of the former "Pope's Head Inn" - hmmm.  probably not a Catholic pub?

After touring the beautiful grounds and examining the inner recesses of a crypt to look for the remains of Mother O'Hagan,  our guide took us into the chapel.  The nuns used gothic
bench seating similar to these (but with taller backs) for their private devotions & I felt like an intruder as I gently touched their prayer books placed on these chairs, waiting for their owner's return.

All was well until we left the chapel through a back door and Sr. Tarcisius turned the small overhead light on. We were not prepared for what we saw!

to be continued.... 


Brad said...

Roberta, sure and it was a catholic pub - any good soul could go there to drink! Thank you for this wonderful look at something I'll never see otherwise. Can't wait for the next chapter!

Sally said...

This is written so that I am back there now sipping tea with Sr. Tarcisius! can hardly wait for part two!
Sally :-)

Vicki said...

Chuckled at the road to happiness post--can relate to doing all the squirming adultly possible to avoid acknowledging the crap. Also, love the old stones posting...loved Ireland for all of this. This current post was interesting but scary in that it reminded me of that movie--you must know the one I mean--and how cruel these places were in the "good old days" (not).

You might enjoy this posting on another blog, as it's a meditation on finding beauty, joy, and meaning in an activity that's usually associated with practicality, old biddiness, and other dreary visuals...

ROBERTA said...

Hi Vicky!
Are you thinking of the Magdalene Sisters movie? I really didn't get that feel from this place which is interesting as I have my own stories from childhood regarding some less-than-kind women who were not fit to be working with children. But i never even thought of those stories while I was there....I just didn't get that vibe...

Thanks for the website referral. Is there a particular post you are referring to? And are you a knitter? If so, I'm quite impressed!