Valerie O’Sullivan’s collection of photos and wisdom offer an exclusive view of Ireland’s only Cistercian monastery for women in the crisp Autumn.
When the days darken in Glencairn and the warmth ebbs away, the season of autumn naturally gives rise to our contemplation of the mystery of life with its cycle from birth to death. As the trees change colour, displaying marvellous shades of yellow, red and orange leaves, which gradually fall away, we admire their gracious letting go and the beauty of the trees in their stark vulnerability. In autumn the balance of prayer and work goes on in the monastery as the community prepares for the season of Advent and Christmas, lighting up our winter days with the joy of the coming of Christ.Sr Sarah
Vocation Story: The Road to St Mary’s Abbey, Glencairn for Sr Fiacra
‘What in the world would make you want to join an enclosed order?’
It’s hardly surprising this was one of the most frequent and utterly dumbfounded reactions when I broke the news of what I was about to do. Being the only girl of four children, I was an outstanding tomboy in my early years and was rarely, if ever, seen in anything but trousers or shorts.
Despite having achieved a good Leaving Certificate at the age of sixteen, I was unable to enter university because I was too young. Instead I travelled to Orléans in France, where I spent a full year as a trainee in a wholesale nursery. When I returned to Ireland, my eldest brother, who had completed a degree in business, and I joined forces in running our small family business. We worked well together for almost twenty-two years and our joint efforts culminated in a thriving retail garden centre. Years later I attained a BSc in horticulture at Writtle College in Essex and accepted a managerial position in a garden centre in the beautiful town of Saffron Walden just outside Cambridge. There I was warmly received into a small but vibrant parish. However I could no longer ignore the persistent idea of a religious vocation. I attended a monastic experience in St Mildred’s monastery in Kent. It was during my four days there, in the autumn of 2005, that I had a very intense experience of God as I had never previously known Him and I knew then that I had to pursue this calling.
On 3 January 2006 I came to Glencairn for three weeks to experience the daily rhythm of monastic life as lived by the community. It eventually became clear that really this was the life God wanted for me and on 6 August of that year, I entered as a postulant.
I still marvel at how God brought me here and gave me all the graces, help, courage and strength I needed, not just to enter Glencairn but to complete my time as a postulant, novice and junior professed sister. On 30 August 2012, with great joy and peace and in the presence of family, friends and community I made solemn profession – the happiest day of my life.
Good order and discipline help to create a peaceful harmonious environment, which is necessary in a monastic community, ‘so that no one may be upset or saddened in the household of God’.(Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 31)
One of the big pluses of living in Glencairn is being able to witness the changing of the seasons. Our lives are illustrated through the seasons of liturgy and nature. Becoming evermore immersed in these cycles year by year brings an unending source of joy. In our orchard we have fourteen different varieties of early, mid and late season apples, both culinary and eating and thus much to look forward to from September on.Sr Fiachra