Keeping the spirit of Religious Orders alive in schools

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A new national association has been launched  – ‘Religious Orders in Education’ – to raise awareness within Catholic educational circles and beyond, of the special contribution made to education in England and Wales by the particular charisms of Religious Order Schools and Colleges. The association, ROE, will bring together congregations which have founded schools in the past and those which are still involved in the governance of educational establishments.

Sr Brenda Wallace FCJ

Sr Brenda Wallace FCJ

One of the organisers, former Headteacher Sr Brenda Wallace FCJ explained: “Our vision is to see 21st century Catholic education strengthened and enhanced by the distinctive charisms of Religious Orders continuing to animate and enrich the schools and colleges of which they are founders or trustees.”

The association has a broad membership of both Religious Orders that are still involved as trustees as well as Orders that founded schools but no longer have any involvement in education.  Sr Brenda added: “These latter congregations have contributed to the rich heritage of Catholic education in the past, which we continue to build upon. This in itself offers great support to those congregations who are still involved.”

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Attendees had travelled from around the country to attend the launch. Sr Therese Browne SP, a trustee of St Paul’s girls school in Birmingham said:  “The launching of ROE is an important development in our time as it is raising a greater awareness among us as Congregations of the gift of our various charisms to Catholic Education. Conscious of the richness of our tradition in this regard, the Association is giving us a renewed appreciation, confidence and energy to pass on our charism to our school communities who are very eager to embrace it. As a Congregation, our Sisters treasure the significant amount of interaction which we have with our staff and pupils. We have a wonderful Headteacher, Dr Dawn Casserly, who is a past pupil of our school; she is passionate with the staff about nurturing and transmitting our charism with confidence in every aspect of school life and beyond.”

Adding: “It is also important that as an Association we continue to build close links with the CES. This, we hope, will enable our Diocesan Education Services to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the distinctive contribution our Religious Congregations still make to Catholic Education and to move forward in a spirit of mutual trust to ensure that we “do the very best for our children.” (Genevieve Dupuis, Foundress). 

Fr Mervyn Williams SDB

Fr Mervyn Williams SDB

Salesian, Fr Mervyn Williams SDB, who gave the opening address commented: “The Association will seek to ensure that the distinct status and contribution made by religious order schools is fully recognised and not lost in the current significant restructuring of Catholic school provision in many dioceses.”

The Chair of the Catholic Education Service, Bishop Marcus Stock, welcomed the new association, saying the heritage passed on by Religious Orders “should be treasured and appreciated as a continuing source of inspiration for strengthening and enhancing the Catholic ethos of the schools and colleges which owe their foundation to those Religious Orders.”

He added: “Dioceses and Religious Orders must together strive to do all within their power to secure the future of Catholic education.”

Roisin Maguire, Edmund Rice Trust

Roisin Maguire, Edmund Rice Trust

Sister Brenda Wallace led Gumley House School FCJ in Middlesex for twenty-four years, was a co-founder of the Association of Maintained Girls’ Schools and received the OBE for services to Education in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2013. She emphasises the long term, strategic and forward looking objectives of the new association: “We want to maintain a healthy option in our Catholic school system  by ensuring that Religious Order schools continue to play their part; schools that have been built around the charisms that the Holy Spirit has given via the founders of the Religious Orders to the whole Church. We do not want to work in competition. We do not want to be isolated so that we are not able to contribute to the good of the whole.”

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Maureen Mee of the Loreto Trust and a member of ROE’s Executive Committee, welcomed the emphasis by the keynote speaker, Sr Pat Murray IBVM (Executive Secretary of the UISG), on collaboration: “Sr Pat Murray has a wealth of experience in both inter-congregational collaboration and in defining and transmitting charisms. I was struck by her reference to  building bridges of collaboration that will take us to somewhere new. The comments of members throughout the day showed that there was a great desire for the support and new life that collaboration will bring. It was also clear that some bridges will take patience to cross - all the diocesan directors were invited but only one turned up. We are conscious that the hard work now begins and we are heartened by the members who have volunteered to take part in the two working groups.” 

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Lay worker, Hilary Thompson, Schools and Network Coordinator for the Society of the Sacred Heart, praised the contribution of Religious Orders to schools: "The extra dimension that the charism, story and priorities of a religious congregation can give to the Catholic life of a school is such a gift. It can touch the members of a school community profoundly. It can be a new way of seeing God and understanding as well as living mission. Therefore it is essential to be able to articulate the charism, story and priorities in a way that makes them come alive and be relevant to the governors, staff and students. Having an association like ROE to support congregations in identifying and passing on their distinctive charisms is most welcome. We can learn so much from each other and share more widely what we have to offer. There is a particular need at the moment for a variety of reasons. One challenge is recruiting governors and senior staff who are open to discovering this extra layer to the Catholic life of a school and prioritising it."

 

 

Religious Sister the first female recipient of the prestigious Benedict Medal

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St Mary’s University in London has awarded Sr Berchmans Conway the Benedict Medal in recognition of a lifetime of teaching and promoting interfaith relations in Pakistan.  

The medal, which is the University’s highest honour, was presented to Sr Berchmans by the Archbishop of Westminster and Chancellor of St Mary’s University, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, during a St Mary’s Summer Graduation Ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

Sr Berchmans was born in Country Clare, Ireland, in 1930 and joined the Convent of Jesus and Mary in 1951 in Willesden, London. The award is in recognition of almost 70 years of teaching, most of which was spent in Pakistan, where she taught Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Hindu children at the Convents of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Murree and Karachi.

In 2012, whilst she was Principal in Karachi, Sr Berchmans was awarded the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, one of the highest civil awards given by the President of Pakistan. The award citation celebrated her “constant adherence to the call of duty over a span of 59 years, which has made Sister Berchmans a living example to emulate.”

During her teaching career, Sr Berchmans taught and inspired thousands of students, amongst whom are the late Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, and renowned MIT Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala who made significant contributions to research which resulted in the first observation of gravitational waves, being awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Sr Berchmans is the fifth recipient, and the first woman, to be presented with the Benedict Medal, joining previous recipients Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all-Ireland, Former Archbishop of Canterbury Baron Williams of Oystermouth, and Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former Chief Executive of Ofsted and alumnus of St Mary’s.  

Speaking of the award, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said, “Sr Berchmans’ dedication and commitment to the thousands of students she has taught is an inspiration to anyone committed to the vocation of teaching. We are honoured that we will be able to present her with the Benedict Medal during our Graduation Ceremony. Her examples of inclusivity and respect will guide our graduates as they embark on their own teaching journeys and continue to inspire future generations.”

Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland) Michael D. Higgins sent his congratulations noting, “Through her words and actions, Sr Berchmans has not only inspired her students but also encouraged those she met to make positive and lasting contributions to society. Through her work and her dedication to teaching she has become a powerful illustration of the beauty and potential of teaching, and she has been an outstanding example of the power of inclusivity and inter-personal empowerment. May I congratulate her on her award and thank her for work, and for the legacy she has created.”

The Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom,  HE Adrian O’Neill said, “I am honoured to represent the Irish Government at the presentation of the Benedict Medal to Sr Berchmans. The Government is acutely conscious of the record of service and achievement overseas of many Irish citizens across our diaspora. Sr Berchmans is an outstanding exemplar of such service; her generous, sustained and distinguished contribution to education and mutual understanding has made a lasting impact, over several generations, in Pakistan. She is a very worthy recipient of the Benedict Medal, of whom her fellow Irish citizens are very proud.” 

Former student of Sr Berchmans and MIT Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said, “My warmest congratulations to Sr Berchmans on being honoured for her lifelong devotion to one of the most important of human traditions – educating the next generation.”

Baroness Warsi, former Senior British Foreign Minister and a visiting professor at St Mary’s University, added, “Sr Berchmans has given her whole hearted commitment to teaching. She has inspired generations of students, who have gone on to make significant contributions to society across a wide range of sectors.”

“I had the privilege of visiting Sr Berchmans in Karachi and I saw at first-hand how her work and presence has created a lifetime of inter faith understanding. Like her students, colleagues and peers I am delighted that Sr Berchmans is receiving the Benedict Medal from St Mary’s University as part of their summer graduation ceremony at Westminster Cathedral – a fitting occasion for someone who has given their life to education and to helping young people achieve their dreams.”    

 

 

 

 

“Thank God someone knows I’m alive!”

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By Sister Moira Keane

[Sr. Moira has just received the ‘Irish in Britain Volunteer award’ and has sent in this reflection on her work with prisoners]

Twenty years ago I enjoyed a sabbatical year. While at All Hallows College in Dublin doing a Diploma course in Humanities I had a placement at Mountjoy prison. Discovering that I loved my experience there, and trusted to escort some of the women on home visits, I applied for full time Prison Chaplaincy when I returned to my Mercy Congregation in England. Catholic chaplains go to where they are appointed to, and I was posted to Northumberland. After twelve wonderful years I retired from that ministry and was missioned to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.  I live there in a beautiful dormer opposite the sea, and in time, it has became a house of hospitality for friends and relatives of the Sisters in care.

With so much experience of prison, the Irish Council for prisoners (I.C.P.O)  overseas invited me to volunteer some time to support them in their very busy London office. I was delighted that with the support of my  Mercy Leadership team, I was  back in contact with the prison population.

What does the work involve? Occasionally accompanying caseworkers on sometimes difficult prisons visits. Engaging in conversation with groups of inmates while the caseworker is seeing prisoners individually -  and when appropriate listening, supporting, advising, encouraging and sharing tea and biscuits!

In the office there is a phone system for prisoners and their family members. Many times offenders are moved to other prisons and lose touch with their families. Prisoners serving a life sentence need a lot of support and can easily get lost in the system. They often say “thank God someone knows I’m alive.”

I sort the mail when it arrives, reading letters and highlighting an ssue if it needs to be dealt with urgently. It is not unusual to read that a client is planning suicide, coping with the death of a family member or has no money to phone home,  which causes much stress especially if the prisoner is a parent. Or  a client might have a court day and need the support of the caseworker who often attends court or visits the prisoner before he/she attends court or when sentenced. Receiving an unexpected sentence creates other problems.  I support the staff in many ways from making cups of tea to occasionally attending a funeral.

 I.C.P.O. is an amazing service and a lifeline to our people who for one reason or another find themselves incarcerated, and sometimes wrongly convicted. More volunteers are required as well as funding to ensure this project continues…..

We give the last word to Jesus who said “I was in prison and you visited me.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open invitation to 'younger religious' to connect via WhatsApp

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By Sister Clare O’Handley

What does religious life mean today? What does the future hold for religious life? These are important questions, especially for younger members of religious congregations. Currently, there is a network of ‘younger religious’, living in different areas of the UK, who meet together from time to time. Most recently, a group met during May for an afternoon together in London.

Sr Clare, on the right, at a CoR meeting

Sr Clare, on the right, at a CoR meeting

What does ‘younger religious’ mean here?: this network comprises those in religious life in temporary or final vows who are predominantly in their 30’s and 40’s. These informal meetings occur 2-3 times per year and serve primarily as a way of socialising together. That being said, conversations often turn to sharing lived experiences of religious life and reflecting upon its future. Topics of discussion have included the dynamics of living in intercultural and/or intergenerational communities (often with wide age-gaps), and how to use digital culture and social media in a fruitful and life-giving manner. Regardless of the topic, our reflections centre on how we live a certain reality within our current context of community, Church and world. This leads to identifying areas where we feel change is needed in order that we continue to be witnesses to what we desire to live. For example, given the areas of ministry that are seen as a priority, many of us see the need to find new ways to collaborate with others, be that other religious, lay people, those of other faith traditions or no faith tradition.

Given the change in size of our congregations over the past decades, we also perceive a need to explore different ways of living community on a daily basis as well as different forms of structure and governance within our congregations.

Coordinating diaries is never an easy task between work, studies, community, family, retreats, and other commitments. We meet whenever even a handful of us can come together. For me, it is beneficial as a ‘young religious’ to be able to share my questions, hopes, fears, struggles and joys with others who are close to my age. It is equally important to hear what others have to share. This is particularly true in respect to the future: religious life must change and evolve if it is to remain relevant in the Church and world. Reflecting with this group provides me with insights that are multiplied by the number of people present, which is a gift.

Above all, it is simply a blessing to be able to share a meal together and to get to know each other. Between meetings, we keep in contact via Whatsapp for important events such as vows, sharing information regarding upcoming events, sending wishes for feast days and to organise future meetings. We are always happy to add a new member to our group, including someone in religious life who is in the UK for a short time of formation or ministry.

If this is useful….:

If you, or someone you know is a ‘younger religious’ (having pronounced either temporary or final vows) and would like to know more about our meetings or join our WhatsApp group, you can contact Clare O’Handley, Sister of Saint Andrew, at clare_ohandley@yahoo.ca

 

 

“Language was no barrier because regardless of where we originate we all speak the same language of love and we all aim to serve.”

Sr Maureen, seated, far right

Sr Maureen, seated, far right

 A report from the recent UISG plenary meeting, by Sr Maureen Murphy FMSJ

This was the third conference of the International Union of Superiors General I had attended as a congregational leader and by far the best. I was one of over eight hundred leaders of Women’s Religious Congregations from more than eighty countries who gathered in the basement of a large hotel in Rome.   The theme of the conference was “Sowers of Prophetic Hope” and the following subjects were covered in depth with speeches which were streamed live on the UISG website and videos on Youtube: 

Sr Maureen’s table group committing to planting seeds of hope

Sr Maureen’s table group committing to planting seeds of hope

·        A Vision for the Future of Religious Life 

·        Sowers of Prophetic Hope for the Planet from a Biblical Perspective and the Presentation of the UISG Campaign Sowing Hope for the Planet 

·        Living Interculturally as a sign of prophetic hope 

·        The Call to Inter Religious Dialogue 

After each presentation by highly qualified female speakers there was table conversation between the ten Sisters at each table divided into language groups around the large hall.  Translation was provided in thirteen languages. This provided opportunities for lively discussions as many topics are lived out in different ways in our various cultural contexts. A sentence summarising the content of the presentations was produced by each group and fed back to the plenary. 

Reports were given on the work of the Executive Committee in the past three years and these included growing contact with various Vatican dicasteries, attendance at Synods and the projects run by UISG - especially Solidarity in South Sudan and Talitha Kum, the anti trafficking initiative, which was celebrating the ten years of its existence with a very graphic exhibition of photographs showing Sisters of all nationalities working very much with the most vulnerable people on earth. 

In the short breaks between sessions,  old friends found one another and new relationships were formed. Language was no barrier because regardless of where we originate we all speak the same language of love and we all aim to serve. 

Mass at St Peter’s

Mass at St Peter’s

On 10th May, the last day of the Conference we made our way in taxis and buses to St Peter’s where Cardinal Braz de Avis celebrated Mass for us and we then made our way to Paul vi hall for an audience with Pope Francis. He entered the hall to cheers and choruses of singing especially from the Sisters from South America.

Before sitting at the table provided for him to sit with the President of our Executive Board, Sister Carmen Summut,  Pope Francis asked for the big winged armchair provided for him to be exchanged to a simple dining chair -  the same as the one provided for Sr Carmen. A sure sign of humility and equality. Discarding the long speech he had written - which he gave to Sr Carmen to circulate to us because he said it was boring and he would rather just speak with us - he welcomed us and thanked us for our loving service all over the world but emphasised that we should serve but not be in servitude particularly to clergy.  If we want to cook and clean we should do so for the vulnerable and sick not for priests who can employ people to do such work - while we evangelise by our presence.

An audience with Pope Francis

An audience with Pope Francis

Asked about the report commissioned to look at the possibility of women deacons Pope Francis told us that the theologians are still at work but we need to pray that they can come to a consensus.  The previous day he had issued a Moto Proprio about child abuse and he mentioned this in the context also of the abuse of Religious. A question asked by a Sister from South Sudan pleading for the early appointment of new bishops to replace those who retire because their leadership is essential in inter religious dialogue and the search for peace received a reply that it was very important but finding the right people who are capable of leadership and fluent in languages was often difficult. 

Before leaving the hall Pope Francis was introduced to the Executive Board members and the delegates from around the world representing the Sisters in their various countries. As the delegate for the UK I felt enormously privileged to shake the hand of this humble and simple man who asked each one of us to pray for him. 

Meetings of the delegates continued on Monday and Tuesday the following week and we elected the new Executive who in turn chose the new president, Sister Iolanda Kafta,  from Poland. 

We left feeling that we had experienced something beautiful and life giving and it is up to us now to share the content with our own Sisters and local Conferences of Religious in whatever ways we can in order to become Sowers of Seeds for the Planet and prophetic witnesses of hope. 

Sister Maureen Murphy, fmsj 

Congregational Leader 

 

 

Providing homes - to help families rebuild broken lives

Sr Jean Quinn

Sr Jean Quinn

By Sister Jean Quinn, Daughter of Wisdom

[Sr Jean founded Sophia Housing in 1997 as a national organisation in Ireland,  which cares and supports people with complex mental health and addiction needs who are also homeless.  Sister Jean is also executive director of UNANIMA International, a United Nations-based coalition of Catholic religious congregations focused on concerns of women, children, migrants and the environment].

The contrast could not have been starker:   Just before Easter, ‘Sophia Housing’ hosted a morning of reflection on the possible development of Wisdom centres as part of our ongoing programme of providing homes and vital support for those emerging from homelessness. For 20 years Sophia has been offering a person-centred model of care for individuals and families struggling to rebuild broken lives. Central to our strategy is the provision of homes, reflecting our passionate belief that poverty and homelessness can only be solved through the strategic provision of affordable and sustainable housing, not just “accommodation.” Sophia’s slogan is “providing homes, supporting people”, reflecting a philosophy which recognises that the provision of physical space alone is an inadequate response.

The day after we met,  Ireland’s Office of the Ombudsman for Children published its disturbing findings in ‘No Place Like Home’ -  the first publicly-funded consultation with homeless children in family hubs.

Sophia has long believed that hotels and family hubs are not the solution to the homeless crisis. While hubs may be safer than hotels, they lack the stability of homes. As a society we can, and must, do better.

Currently Sophia Housing supports 617 adults and 169 children, while another 134 people are supported through our outreach programmes. Respect for the dignity of each person is our cornerstone and informs all our actions.

Sophia works with those who come to us at their own pace, providing vital care services and a pathway to independence. Those who turn to us bear the scars of poverty and social exclusion, and come from a variety of backgrounds.

Tranquil space:

The principles of what we call trauma-informed care underpin our approach to medical treatment and to the physical and social environment.

In Dublin’s Cork Street a feature of the complex, in the heart of one of the oldest parts of the capital, is a Wisdom Centre, a bright, tranquil space surrounded by a garden and water.

With its emphasis on space and light, the building provides a safe place to seek wisdom of mind, heart and spirit. The layout is designed to create a sense of belonging, and the centre reinforces that community spirit.

Stakeholders, including representatives of the religious congregations who provide funding for Sophia, recently met to discuss the exciting possibility of including similar Wisdom centres in other projects as we develop our work.

As a Daughter of Wisdom I’m proud of the supportive role played by religious congregations in the work of Sophia. Many congregations have given property to Sophia for use as homes. As the needs for large properties declines these congregations are ensuring that buildings will continue to serve those most in need in different ways.

I am acutely aware of our rich heritage of service and commitment to social justice. Religious sisters continue this tradition in different ways, and new models are emerging throughout the world.

Our voices:

For my own part I am currently executive director of UNANIMA International. It is a coalition of communities of religious women who seek to use our voices and experiences in the fields of health, education and social policy to shape UN policy.

As executive director I represent 22 congregations with 20,000 members in over 80 countries. Our priority has been to put the provision of adequate homes at the centre of UN policy, and my work has been shaped by my experience as a founder of Sophia.

Making the right to a home a human right seemed a modest ambition when I set out on this journey. At times the UN can appear removed from the reality of social exclusion, so I was very pleased at our recent success in convincing the Working Group to End Homelessness to incorporate homelessness into a UN resolution. It will now be the priority theme at the Commission on Social Development in 2020.

At a time when trust and confidence in religious institutions has been shattered, there may have been a tendency to step back. Yet there has never been a more urgent need for care and compassion, locally and globally.

In The Republic of Conscience, Seamus Heaney reminds us:

“Their embassies, he said, were everywhere

but operated independently

and no ambassador would ever be relieved.”

Long may we meet the challenge.

 

Tributes pour in for Sister of Mercy who has died after being hit by a car

Sr Ita Keane with Saidul Haque Saeed of Citizens UK Bham

Sr Ita Keane with Saidul Haque Saeed of Citizens UK Bham

Sister Ita Keane of St Mary’s Convent in Handsworth, Birmingham, has died after a collision on a city street.  The 74-year-old had been crossing a road in the Aston area of Birmingham when she was struck by a vehicle on Friday afternoon (April 26) and died in hospital a few hours later.

Sr Ita was a well known community activist, involved with Citizens UK Birmingham.  The organisation paid tribute to her on Twitter :  “Very sad news. The amazing Sr Ita Keane of St Mary's Convent passed away yesterday. She was our rock & a dedicated Organiser building the power of poor families in the city. Our prayers & thoughts are with the Sisters of Mercy family & her loved ones… Everyone is in shock & will deeply miss her. The Sisters of Mercy are at the heartbeat of broad based community organising in Brum.”

The Citizens UK Organiser in Birmingham, Saidul Haque Saeed added:  “Sr Ita no longer with us. I've lost a great mentor & a dear friend, who helped me become a better Organiser. Still in shock. Hurts!”

Councillor Khalid Mahmood, of Perry Barr also paid tribute to Sr Ita, describing her as a “hard-working community member”  who worked tirelessly to help young children in the community, along with pupils at St Francis Catholic Primary School.  He said: "She looked after local children and local people and also helped with the school next door; a huge amount of work in the community, she worked tirelessly and beyond her duty….. she will be hugely missed by the community. We have suffered a great loss.”

The Revd David Butterworth of the Methodist Church in Birmingham also paid tribute on Twitter: “A beautiful & very wise Sister who had time & heart for everyone. The Birmingham Methodist District & Birmingham Circuit counted her a close friend, family... Our condolences with all who knew her & especially her family within the Convent.”

Individuals and organisations that Sr Ita came into contact with in the Lozells area of the city have also been expressing their sense of loss. Local resident, Altaf Kazi posted:  “Sister Ita Keane- a true legend of Lozells and an advocate of the poor- she lived and died in the service of others.”

The Councillor for Lozells, Waseem Zaffar wrote: “This news has sent shockwaves across #Lozells - Sister Ita was an amazing community activist from our neighbourhood & even at the time of her tragic death, she was in the process of helping a vulnerable local family. I visited St Mary’s Convent this morning to pay my respects.”

A community organisation in Lozells – Aspire & Succeed – which offers after school tuition, youth work and free citizens’ advice added:  “Sr Ita was a true hero for us in Lozells, helped shape so many projects currently being delivered, her legacy will live on. Our prayers and love go out to her loved ones and the Sisters of Mercy.”

 

 

Offering vital support in precious last days......and bringing light in the darkest moments

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By Sister Siobhan O’Keeffe SHJM

As I ponder on the beautiful gospel message of Martha and Mary, I ask myself ‘how can I, as an apostolic religious Sister, continue to deepen my contemplative life of prayer while serving God’s people in our world today?’

Sr Siobhan : an Easter gift from a patient, a woman in her sixties

Sr Siobhan : an Easter gift from a patient, a woman in her sixties

I am a Sister of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Chigwell Sisters).  I live in Liverpool and work part-time as a Marie Curie STARS nurse providing palliative care to terminally ill people in their own homes.  We are a team of 8 nurses, 3 admin workers and a number of Carers who support people in the last 3 months of their lives who wish to live out these precious days in the midst of their families, in the privacy of their homes.  Patients range in age from 16+.

Each time a referral is placed on my desk, I try to imagine what this diagnosis of a terminal illness means for this person and their families.  Some have been ill over a number of years with a chronic condition such as kidney failure, heart failure or respiratory illness.  Others may have been newly diagnosed with an aggressive neurological condition or cancer.  For each one and their family, it is a life changing event.

Many have good family and local community support; however, a significant number live with the diverse challenges associated with poverty in all its dimensions. Some family situations are very complex where family communication has broken down and the ill person may be faced with travelling this sensitive terminal journey without the necessary social support that they need.  On occasion families wish to withhold the ‘truth’ of the diagnosis or prognosis from the person.  Deep discernment is needed as I try to sensitively respond to such a challenge. When speaking with the ill person alone, many tell me that they know that ‘time is running out,  I am tired and I am ready to go.’  Some people struggle greatly for a period but as time goes on, become more reconciled to their dying.  They may fear the impact of their going on their loved ones;  family or other relationships or issues may need to be reconciled before they can ‘let go’ in peace.

My day begins with personal prayer and morning Mass at the beautiful Carmelite Monastery a couple of miles from the office.  I am deeply aware that I cannot do this work alone and ask for the grace to draw strength from the God of all life in the Eucharist. As I knock on family doors, I often ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I have no idea what awaits me in each new home. On many occasions I am deeply humbled by the graciousness of the sick, the courage of their families and often in the midst of great loss and suffering, a sense of humour prevails.

A strong team spirit offers mutual support to each one as we face the challenges of each day. As you will appreciate, the level of heartbreak that we witness could be depressing but we support each other especially through the most difficult situations.  It is normal as one re-enters the office after a difficult visit to hear a colleague shout out, ‘cup of tea?’ which usually receives an affirmative response.  Our occasional pizza evenings or cinema trips also help.

I return home to reflect on my day, rest, pray and savour my deepening need for silence. A part-time STARS role offers me the space to continue my Spirituality and Dementia care and Pastoral Care training to other congregations and allows some time for my creative writing energies to flow.

I appreciate the support of my Sacred Heart Sister family and as the evenings get longer, I look forward to the sound of bird song as I peddle my bike through a local park.

“Please pray for the kind lady who made the cakes...time on earth is very precious for her now.”

FOOTNOTE: Sr Siobhan has recently written a book on loneliness.

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I Am With You Always  includes a guide to loneliness in Scripture and a series of reflections on how loneliness is experienced across contemporary society. It offers a practical application of scripture to real life challenges and speaks to people across all strata of society.

It is available from www.messenger.ie (Sacred Heart Messenger Press).

The need for ecological conversion : a reflection on Laudato Si'

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By Sr Margaret Atkins OSA

Laudato Si' begins by telling us how it is: the state of our planet, and what our faith has to say about that. Chapter One uses evidence from the hard sciences to describe our world: pollution, climate change, scarcity of water, the loss of thousands of species. It does so, however, with a rhetorical power designed to make us care: 'The earth, our home, is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth.' 'The world is a joyful mystery, to be contemplated with gladness and praise.'

So, what does the Gospel have to say about creation? 'We are not God.' The world is the gift of our Creator, so that each creature is good and beautiful, and we are all interrelated. Indeed, our interrelatedness mirrors the Trinitarian nature of God. Our story, traced through the beginning of Genesis, is one of rupture. As we broke away from God, we also broke our peace with the natural world. Reconciliation with God, with each other and with the natural world are all part of the same process, the peace-making and healing that comes through Christ. Jesus himself knew and loved the Galilean countryside, its birds, plants and animals. And why would he not? - he, the Son of God, through whom all things were made, redeemed and restored.

The central chapters look at where we have gone wrong, and how we might go right. First, Pope Francis, closely following his predecessors, describes how we forget that we are not gods; we try to control everything ourselves. Pope Francis calls this 'the technocratic paradigm', from techne (skill) and cratos (power). We begin to see the world as there for us to manipulate. In practice, this means that powerful people take control. They control first others' things; then other people; then even the truth. Manipulation leads directly on to relativism - the truth itself is what I want it to be.

Technocracy fragments the world into manipulatable chunks. Laudato Si' reminds us insistently that 'everything is interconnected.' We have learnt that lesson from biologists: ecology is the science of the interconnectedness of life. The recent popes have taught that there is also a human, social ecology; and that this is inseparable from natural ecology. Indeed, a healthy personal and social morality, economics, politics and finance are all intermeshed with the well-being of the environment.

Finally, Laudato Si' leads on to action. We need effective dialogue, policy and action at every level: global, national and local. But before all else, we need 'ecological conversion', an inner, spiritual confession of sin, responsibility, praise and gratitude that changes our attitude and transforms our practice. This is indeed challenging. What it is not is grim and gloomy. Living more lightly and more generously is liberating and will bring us joy and peace at the deepest level.

If you want to be inspired or challenged watch some of our young people speaking on You-Tube - Greta Thunberg (www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUW1OwjWRMw), or Lauren Singer who lives a zero-waste lifestyle (www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF72px2R3Hg). Go on - I dare you! Yes, they put us to shame.

But we Catholics should be inspired by, not ashamed, of our faith. It gives us all that we need to live lightly on the planet….. God the Creator and Christ who redeemed the world he entered and loved. The Holy Spirit, the Church and the sacraments to sustain us in hope. And a moral tradition that honours simplicity, justice, unselfishness and peace. We cannot save the planet by ourselves. We don't need to. We are not alone. We are interconnected, with God, with each other and with our world.

Sr Margaret Atkins is based at Boarbank Hall in Cumbria:     www.boarbankhall.org.uk/