MMM and the Benedictine Way of Life
In 1934, our Foundress, Marie Martin, was anxious to find a home for the small group of women who had shown interest in her desire to establish a medical missionary congregation of Sisters. The idea of having women religious providing medical services in places of great need was her driving goal. She was thrilled at the idea that they might be able to help the monks at Glenstal who were experiencing many domestic difficulties at their newly-opened boarding school. It meant they would get a spiritual formation in return.
Her spiritual director, Fr. Hugh Kelly, SJ, wondered whether Benedictine training would give a monastic and liturgical frame of mind, a spirituality which would not seem the best thing for an institution that was to be primarily very active.
Marie saw it from a different angle entirely. She would distinguish between the spirit and the practice of Benedictine spirituality. She had studied the writings of the famous Irish monk and abbot, Dom Columba Marmion. She wanted to graft her new missionary society onto a spiritual tradition that had been tried and tested over the centuries. The spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict would provide precisely the freedom and, at the same time, the commitment she saw so necessary to achieve her vision of a medical missionary congregation. The Rule would be carefully crafted into the Constitutions of MMM.
When Nora Leydon, later Sister Patrick, met Marie Martin, she was twenty-seven years of age. From Kilmactranny, Co. Sligo, she had been working as secretary to Fr. Patrick Whitney, of the newly-founded St. Patrick's Missionary Society. On March 19,1934, when Nora arrived in Glenstal to join Marie, the nucleus of the future Congregation of MMM was formed. It would be three years before MMM could be formally established.
A short time later, Bridie O'Rourke arrived at Glenstal. She took the name Sister M. Magdalen. She later became the first editor of the MMM monthly magazine and remained very involved in promotion work for MMM until her old age. She died on November 11, 2008, shortly before her 99th birthday. She always said it was the example of the monks at Glenstal that impressed her, more than the Rule.
Caroline (Carrie) Nichols was born in Dublin and baptized in St. Paul's Church on Arran Quay, the same parish where Dom Marmion had been baptized, as she often reminded us. She was only eighteen years old when she became aware of the hoped-for medical missionary congregation. She joined the little group of pioneers in Glenstal in 1936. The spirit of St. Benedict enthralled her young heart.
The small community grew slowly and provided essential help to the monks in establishing their new boys' boarding school at Glenstal. Then, on February 11, 1936, the Vatican issued the decree for which Marie Martin had waited for almost twenty years. Henceforth, women religious were permitted, indeed encouraged, topractice obstetrics and surgery. At last, the door had been opened to establish the Medical Missionaries of Mary.
It was time to leave the spiritual cradle which Glenstal had provided for the young missionary society. In a matter of months, the little group was preparing for Africa, but the connection between the Medical Missionaries of Mary and the Benedictine Monastery at Glenstal would last through all the years that followed.