It was the 3rd of December, it poured rain all day and it was the day for us to celebrate Evening Prayer in the Carmelite Church in Clarendon Street to mark the Year for Consecrated Life. Despite the atrocious weather conditions, more than 50 Sisters made their way into town to witness to the importance of this occasion. In the Sanctuary, a beautiful poster created by Sr. Dorothy Callanan proclaimed the 800th Jubilee of the Order. Sr. Maeve McMahon preached on the life of Dominic, the history of the Order and the place of women within it. (see below) This enabled all of us present to link back into our great legacy with pride and to appreciate yet again the challenge being a Dominican posed to us. Evening Prayer with sung hymn, psalms and canticle raised our hearts to God and we concluded by singing, as is our tradition, the Salve Regina and the great hymn in honour of Dominic ‘O Lumen Ecclesiae, doctor veritatis…’
A cup of tea, biscuits and chat sent us on our way refreshed in soul and body!
Srs Martina Phelan, Bríd Roe and Miriam Weir
Evening Prayer in Clarendon Street
Those of us who belong to Religious Congregations love to tell and retell the stories of our origins. These stories often provide us with context, meaning and direction in our lives. They remind us that our way of life has been greatly shaped by the Sisters who have gone before us.
We, Cabra Dominicans, especially like to tell the story about two nuns, Julian Nolan and Mary Lynch who had been exiled in Spain for forty years during Penal times and who, when asked to return to Ireland, became the sparks which ignited our way of life. Julian Nolan was 75 and Mary Lynch was 60. But I’m jumping ahead of myself! The story of our Dominican Congregation, is a strand in a much larger story which encompasses the whole Dominican family of friars, nuns, sisters and lay members, male and female, stretching down eight centuries and over the continents of the world.
The key inspiration in the Dominican story is Dominic Guzman who was born in ,Caleruega Spain around 1173. He was always a believer, reared in a deeply Christian home but when he found himself among Cathar heretics who denied, among other things, the goodness of creation and that God’s Son became a man and offered his life for our redemption, he had to think out how to deliver the gospel in a fresh, new way. That was often in the form of a public debate with disbelievers which could last days and even weeks. He quickly realised that a good education in Scripture and Theology and a life of contemplation, searching for the truth, were essential for the preacher if he were to really challenge his opponents. His own education had prepared him well for this task but many believe it was his demeanour as well as his love of Jesus Christ that proved to be a magnetic attraction. He did not pontificate but respectfully reasoned with his opponent, gently drawing out the truth. Jordan of Saxony, his successor as Master of the Order said of him that “he understood everything with the humble intelligence of his heart.”
Up until this time, preaching had been reserved to bishops, the direct descendants of the apostles but Dominic knew that the times called for greater commitment to preaching, better biblical and theological preparation and a life style in keeping with the poor Jesus Christ.
He established a community of preachers who lived like the early apostles, sharing everything in common, begging for their food and supporting each other in prayer. He valued monastic observance but replaced manual labour with study in the daily schedule. Monastic rules were to be dispensed when study and preaching necessitated that – not to make life easier for individuals-but to free them for the preaching of the gospel. Dispensation was an innovative idea then – when to break a rule was considered to be a sin.
It was on 22nd December, 1216, 800 years ago this month that Dominic Guzman received Papal approval for a worldwide Order of Preachers. Eight months later, on the Feast of the Assumption, 15th August, he dispersed his brethren, sending some to major university cities like Paris and Madrid. That was just 4 years before he died.
But where do women fit into St. Dominic’s story you may ask?
The very first monastery he founded was for Cathar women converts – in Prouille, France in 1206. He instructed and formed this community himself, finding an oasis of prayer and support there for his small band of preachers. “The nuns’ penitential and prayerful lives were dedicated to obtain for the labours of their brethren, abundant fruit in holiness.”
Dominic Guzman died in 1221. The first Dominican friars came to Ireland in 1224. Records show that they had been in Athenry, County Galway as early as 1241 but it was 1488 before the Dominican friars made a foundation in Galway city. It was in the year 1644 that a group of women were approved to live the Dominican way of life as a community of nuns. We trace our roots back to this community, the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Galway.
Sadly, just eight years after their confirmation as a Dominican Monastery, Galway city surrendered to Cromwell’s forces and cloistered life there was terminated. The nuns chose to leave Ireland and to live in exile in Spanish monasteries.
Two of this group of nuns, Julian Nolan and Mary Lynch had been living for 40 years in a Spanish Monastery of Dominicans when they were asked by the Irish Provincial to return home to Galway to re-establish a community of Dominican nuns. On 7th May, 1688, their first novice, Sr. Agnes Browne was professed.
Unfortunately, life was hard, the persecution of Catholics continued and the nuns were forced again to disband and to live incognito among the people when the dissolution of the monasteries took place. In 1702, when they were able to come together again, a novice, Sr. Mary Bellew, made her profession in the hands of Sr. Mary Lynch (Sr. Julian Nolan had died.) Sr. Mary Bellew was to lead a group to make a foundation in Dublin in 1717.
Other offshoots later took root in Dublin, Drogheda, Wicklow, Belfast, Portstewart, North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The majority of these Dominican women answered the need to educate females – from Primary to Third level – in the spirit of the founder of the Order, Dominic Guzman.
We are descendants of Julian Nolan, Mary Lynch, Mary Bellew and the many heroic women who suffered greatly and even death for their faith. We thank them for their lives of commitment in following Jesus as Dominic did. His story and theirs continue to inspire us and to offer us hope and courage in our time.
Sr. Maeve Mc Mahon O.P.