Glencairn Abbey: A Grace-Filled Place

September 28, 2007

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My place of choice for some days of retreat this summer was Saint Mary's Abbey, Glencairn, County Waterford, Ireland, and what a good choice it was!  Here resides a large community of Cistercian Sisters.  Adjacent to their place of residence is a three-bedroom guest house, bearing the hallmarks of hospitality, welcome and spirituality.

The Abbey is situated on the banks of the River Blackwater, fondly known as the Irish Rhine.  Leading into the Abbey is a long avenue flanked on either side with green pastures.  As I drove farther up the avenue, the noise of traffic on the road faded away.  I was reminded that God cannot always be found in noise and restlessness.  God is a friend of silence.   Grass, trees and flowers grew there in silence.  My hope was that here, in the following days, I, too, would grow in love of God and humankind.

I was warmly welcomed by Sister Agnes, whose role it is to look after guests.  She gave me the timetable about when Eucharist was celebrated each day, when the community recited the Divine Office in choir, and mealtimes.  I also had a comfortable reading room for my use.

In no time the silence nourished my tired spirit.  The prayer room at the side of the Sisters' Choir, which is available to visitors, is a very inviting place for quiet time.  I chose to attend all the Hours of the Divine Office, the chanting of which, for me, brought the God of Beauty close.  These times I really looked forward to and certainly those women have been blessed with the gift of song and music.  It was great too, at this time in religious life, to see so many young women at different stages of formation for a commitment to the monastic way of life.

Having in the past brought teenage students a number of times to the Abbey where the bread for Eucharist is baked, and with them visited the farm where the Sisters engage in manual work, I had heard much about the challenging way of life through the students' straightforward questioning.  It is always a great revelation to the students to hear that the Sisters rise for prayer at 4:00 a.m.

Yes, Saint Mary's Abbey, Glencairn, is a special place for young and not so young.  How is that?  For me, here is found simplicity, joy, beauty -- God's Breathing Space.

Emmanuel Leonard, a Sister of Mercy, lives with her community at Cobh, County Cork, Ireland.  She is Director for Adult Religious Education in the Diocese of Cloyne and a member of the Irish Bishops' Commission for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development.