Powerhouse of prayer
by Sister Eilis Weber
Our Motherhouse at Beechgrove, Drogheda, is home to more than ninety Sisters, the majority of whom are retired. Almost all have been on overseas mission during their active years.
This house, for many decades gone by, reverberated with the life, enthusiasm and the joie de vivre of youth. Sisters went in haste, bringing healing to less fortunate people in under-developed areas of the world, returning home some years later, worn out after a hectic tour of duty. A few months passed and they were away again.
Sisters Fidelma O'Shea, Winnifred Newell and
Groups of new recruits came annually to join in this unprecedented upsurge of vocations. At that stage, no one thought that things could or would be different.
Today, our Motherhouse is alive with another kind of energy, which moves at a different pace, a different tempo. The visible and adrenaline-stimulating challenges of active, missionary life have been replaced by invisible, less obvious, but equally challenging difficulties of age-related diminishments.
There are the silent struggles, the vulnerability that comes with bodies that will not cooperate, the adaptation from highly successful professional people to the helplessness that can come with age.
The Sisters now retired at our Motherhouse spent their younger years saving lives in often dramatic circumstances. They helped combat Hansen's disease (leprosy), TB, measles and a host of other illnesses through education, hygiene and vaccination programmes. They came to grips with the most recent scourge for the human race, AIDS, and have been instrumental in removing the stigma of AIDS and in making treatment available to the most abandoned. They were on the front line of action.
Be grateful for your sisters who are old.
Life is not something to be grasped
In a world orientated towards power and success,
To be is more important than to have,
And when they are no longer preoccupied
They teach you about your illusions of immortality,
Ageing is no longer to be feared:
Only in the depths of your heart,
Today, the contemplative aspect of the MMM vocation is more in evidence in their lives. Their days revolve around the Eucharist and the Divine Office. Faithfully, often painfully, they make their way to the Oratory to worship the Lord at Mass and praise God in the psalms.
Adapting from the small, intimate community of our overseas missions, where each one has a clear-cut role, to the larger community of ninety or more is a gigantic task. The cultural transition can be very difficult. Retirement for a missionary also means getting used to the loss of the clear blue skies of the Southern Hemisphere and the long dark winter evenings of Ireland. All of this takes time, but our Motherhouse at Beechgrove is full of Good Samaritans! Sisters who are fractionally stronger help out their weaker neighbours with things which are difficult: like tying shoe laces, fastening stubborn buttons, cutting toe-nails, and helping each other feel at home.
Missionaries coming on leave play a big part in the life of the Motherhouse. They come home exhausted but aglow with stories of new ways of bringing the Good News to those in need. No longer called to work in huge hospitals, they now minister to smaller groups: orphans, women in sex work, and people torn by hatred. The need for healing is as real today as it was when Mother Mary Martin had her original dream. In these times, the way to realize this dream is different.
Diamond Jubilarians: Sisters M. Declan Doyle,
These Sisters at our Motherhouse are not just retired missionaries. They are wisdom-filled a wisdom which increases all the time. Their inner life grows stronger, even as their physical life gets weaker. Their relationship with God becomes more profound. They are the silent heroines, whose struggles are known to God alone.
Above all, our Motherhouse is a place of welcome, a centre for prayer. This community shows MMM at its best - offering hospitality, both on big occasions like Jubilee celebrations and funerals, and on a day to day basis, with simplicity and sheer practicality. Age is no deterrent to living the life of an MMM as Mother Mary Martin envisaged it. The sparkle of active ministry is over, but the warm glow of all that is best in MMM is very much in evidence.