My Call and Vocation
I felt and desired to be a religious at a very tender age, before I started and completed secondary education. I grew up in an atmosphere where prayer and service to the poor had great importance. I had a very special admiration for religious sisters; I wanted to be like them, to love every person irrespective of race, class, physical ability etc. I am also extremely grateful to my family who engaged me in the service to humanity and showed me how to love everyone including the poor.
My search for the religious congregation to which I was called took me across the oceans. When I arrived in England, there was something I felt was still lacking in me; something I was not still seeing clearly. I was praying everywhere and at all times. The question as to what God had in store for me still bothered me. .
I knew nothing about the Loreto Sisters, although the school I attended in Nigeria was called Loreto Girls Juniorate. This has no link to Loreto Sisters (formally called the IBVM). It was only during my stay in England that I came to know of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I knew I was looking for something, but I had no name for what I was looking. The term Ignatian Spirituality was not familiar to me. But, right from the first day I came in contact with the IBVM, it was like having a divine visitation. I felt I had landed, I felt at home, which was the turning point and my search stopped.
Presently, I am working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, where I serve, advocate and accompany the refugees in their very sad and uncertain situations. We provide a space for them to talk about their life’s experiences, their journey and God in their lives. This creates an opportunity for them to find peace within themselves to pray as a group or individual with a companion.
To my utter surprise, I found myself at childhood experiences I thought I had left behind. And I learnt that the emotional space in which I found myself was very different from the one I left behind. Every twist and turn of my life continues to surprise me. I think God has certainly used my past experiences to build me up for the present and future. Mary Ward with her Ignatian spirituality is asking me to look for and find God in my ordinary daily activities, out of freedom, justice, truth, sincerity and joy. As Mary Ward puts it, “Divine love is like fire, which will not let itself be shut up, for it is impossible to love God and not to labour to extend his honour”. This makes me who I am and what I was called to. I often then ask God to change my spark of love to a flame.
MaryAgnes Idiong IBVM
At the age of eight I accompanied my sister who was returning to Boarding school. While being shown the school I met an elderly Sister who gave me a great welcome. From that day on she prayed for me that I would have a religious vocation to Loreto in England. Eventually, I became a boarder in the same school where I was extremely happy and found the Sisters were very hospitable, spiritual with a great zeal for the Foreign Missions. Sr. A – my elderly friend continued to pray for me and although I tried to resist her persuasiveness deep down I knew that her prayer would be heard and so it was.
While in school I learnt a lot about Teresa Ball, Scholastica Somers (she succeeded Teresa Ball after her death) and Gonzaga Barry who is so much part of the history of Loreto in Australia. Among the community there were wonderful elderly Sisters who always showed interest in us as children. They had a great sense of humour and we were very conscious of their deep spirituality. The atmosphere of prayer and love and the history of the Institute permeated the place. I heard very little about Mary Ward as in the 40s she was not that well known in Ireland.
Training in a non-Catholic College was a culture shock for me having come from a very catholic background but the support of my Religious community was overwhelming and now with hind sight I am very glad to have had the experience.
I gradually learnt about Mary Ward and came to love her. One of her sayings, “nothing happens by chance” certainly played a part in my life. I enjoyed teaching teenagers. When I retired from teaching I undertook the running and upgrading our Retreat Centre in Llandudno. This brought me in contact with adults and youth of all denominations.
We celebrated Mary Ward’s 400th anniversary of the founding of the Institute. This gave me a deep desire to visit Yorkshire where she was born and grew up. I found this visit an awesome experience.
Now that I have retired, I do voluntary work in the local Hospice café and am the Roman Catholic Chaplain for the same hospice. The work in the hospice is very special. I am energized by the people who come to the café. To the patients to whom I take Holy Communion I feel so privileged knowing that most of them will meet their Maker within 2- 3 weeks of admission to the hospice. I live in a community of elderly sisters where their devotion to prayer and care for each other is most edifying. This is indeed a House of Prayer.
Brigid Kenny IBVM
Reflections on Apostolic Religious Life
I joined Loreto in 1963. These fifty years have been an amazing experience. Our generation witnessed the first major changes in the practices and structures of religious life since we were founded in the 1600’s. But in 1963, Apostolic Religious life was still ‘monasticised’ and we were living an almost entirely ‘enclosed’ existence.
In 1966, the Vatican II Council in the Catholic Church allowed us to live according to the wishes of our Foundress, Mary Ward. Among other revolutionary practices, she fought, over 400 yrs ago, for non-enclosure, so freedom to move outside the confines of the convent walls, and no religious dress or ‘habit’ but instead to wear the ordinary dress of the day. These changes were radical and liberating for women’s religious life. But though these external practices were essential for the authenticity of our active way of life, the essential nature of religious life, contemplation, still remained our core identity. We were contemplatives in action and our training was primarily focussed on preparing us to live in the real world with a firm foundation in prayer, contemplation, and discernment, with reflection and examination of conscience, based on the scriptures, especially the psalms and the gospels. Our formation had to be serious and intense as we were being formed and equipped to do apostolic work in a tough world environment without the protection of enclosure or religious dress. So our training ensured that we were secure, mature and independent-minded women.
Our apostolic charism is ‘care of the faith’ and we have practised this specifically through education and most particularly in teaching and spiritual formation. We have however widened this remit to include other more creative works including various supportive ministries, for example, with homeless women, women offenders, asylum seekers, detention centres, prisons and interfaith. We also opened ourselves to even more visionary ministries in, for example, factory work. I was given the opportunity in the ‘1990s’ to become a skilled ‘overlock machinist’ in a factory in Nottingham making clothes for ‘Marks and Spencer’. I couldn’t describe my reason for wanting to do this, better than this quote referring to Beatrice Webb the wife of George Bernard Shaw who in the 1940’s ‘once took a job in a tailoring ‘sweat shop’ in one of the poorer parts of London in order to discover for herself what the women had to endure in terms of conditions and pay!’. This was the beginning of my ministry to the ‘unchurched’ and it required me to learn a new non-religious language in order to reach a level of real communication and also meant that, to begin with, I did not tell the women that I was a nun. In fact I didn’t tell them for four years, and continued to work and live amongst them for a further five years, four of which I was the Union Representative.
This experience has kept me in what we call the ‘secular’ world and it is a ‘good’ place to be. In the past we have referred to this world as ‘the market place’, or, in the ‘new evangelisation’ Papal document, ‘the courtyard of the gentiles’ or, as Teilhard de Chardin has described ‘the divine millieu’. It is in fact the ‘Gospel’ world in which Jesus grew in ‘wisdom and grace’.
My experience of living religious life in a secular context has been a blessed opportunity to do the same and I believe, the closest I was able to get to living Gospel values in this post-modern era.
Jackie Gleeson IBVM
‘That we be as we appear and appear as we are’. This saying of Mary Ward’s, addressed to her first companions, attracted me as a young adult, as it spoke of a freedom to be the person that God created each one to be – nothing more, and nothing less. At the time I was searching for a way forward in life, and religious life seemed a possible option. I looked back over my years as a pupil in an IBVM school, and realised that the Sisters who taught me were a great example of living in such freedom, and encouraged us quite simply, to be ourselves. A retreat with the Jesuits further inspired me towards religious life within this tradition, and so I got in touch with the sisters in London and joined the Institute in 1989.
Our times are not unlike those of Mary Ward’s. We live with many tensions in our Church and in our world. We live with uncertainties, yet also great opportunities. We can draw from the history and charism of Ignatius of Loyola and Mary Ward to reflect on how we can shape the future. With ‘freedom to refer all to God’ (Mary Ward) and a desire to respond to God’s call, our boundaries are virtually limitless. Our future is often uncertain, and we are unclear about what we have to do, but I am inspired by Mary Ward’s continuous trust and desire to respond to the will of God, in the face of all obstacles.
I currently work at Loyola Hall, a Jesuit retreat centre in the North West of England. Spirituality work is at the heart of our mission, as we constantly seek to find ways to respond to the spiritual hunger of our times, and to create opportunities for people to deepen their relationship with God. In this ministry, I am very privileged to accompany people as they listen, and seek to respond, to God’s personal call to them.
Ewa Bem IBVM
Mary Ward is a woman whose inspiration and charism has not only drawn me into a deeper, free, and loving relationship with God but which has freed me to understand that life is in God’s hands and that all things are made holy by God and in God’s will. The rest is to ‘do ordinary things well’ and to ‘refer all to God’ (Mary Ward). I have understood that in this and this alone is the pathway for those who follow God through the charism of Mary Ward and who seek to do God’s will. In this, as Mary Ward has said, will I find quiet peace.
The journey as a member of IBVM(Loreto), has been along a road with many crossroads and which has had many twists and turns in it. Along the way I have been called to work in a variety of ministries including teaching, the ministry of spirituality, counselling of youth, youth employment enterprise, the ministry of ecumenical church presence and in community development, on a council estate in the NE of England and finally, today, on mission in Albania in the field of anti-trafficking in human persons. Mary Ward was called to ‘Take the Same as The Society’. Consequent to this, as members of IBVM, we have responded to the greatest needs of the time in the church of today; the same as all members of the Society of Jesus are called to do. This has led us, as followers of Mary Ward to take a preferential option for the poor, to respond to the call for justice where injustice is taking place and to work in advocacy and campaigning and the ministry of spirituality with all people whatever their status. The call is to inclusivity and for all to be empowered to achieve the fullness of what it means to be human and to have the freedom to do this and to become the people God called us to be.
In Albania we have opened an NGO called Mary Ward Loreto which is a synergy of projects all of which work against the modern day slavery known as human trafficking. The projects include a school for Roma children, outreach to their families, the empowerment of women in the rural and informal regions of Albania, youth enterprise, direct work in the field with the victims of trafficking and in the work of awareness raising throughout Albania against this modern day phenomena. It is the Friends of Mary Ward and many professional young Albanian people who forward the mission in Albania with IBVM. The seeds of this charism are slowly being planted in this land.
Imelda Poole IBVM