Reflection from Sr. Helen Mary Harmey OP, Congregation Prioress
The Broad Place
In June the members of the Dominican Association of Ireland and Great Britain met in Westfield. During their visit they asked about our history. Fr. John Farrell, the Provincial of England found it very interesting that the foundation of our Congregation was not that of apostolic sisters but that of Nuns. It seemed to explain a lot to him; “the lot” he did not elaborate on!
I thought about his “surprise” and his apparent understanding of us as a group. It reminded me of Pope Francis’ exhortation for this year of consecrated life, “look to the past with gratitude” in order “to live the present with passion”.
What am I grateful for when I look back to our origins in 1644 or when I look back to the forming of the Congregation in 1928? What are you grateful for? Have you read our numerous histories or pondered on those who went before us or reflected on the many changing events?
When I look back with interest, amazement and gratitude I am thankful for the elements of monastic life especially the rhythm of the Divine Office, Liturgy, Ritual, Silence and being a charismatic gift in the Church. I am deeply grateful for the spirit of grace and freedom that underpins our Constitutions and theology. It is life-giving that we are associated with something bigger than ourselves that is the Order. Fr. John highlighted for me that as nuns we were members of the Order and when we became a Congregation we were associated with the Order. This is probably self-evident but it clarified for me our connection with the Province and our somewhat ambivalent relationship at times.
It is such a privilege to belong to such a long line of brave, courageous, creative and long suffering women down through the centuries and into our own times. When we look back on our particular history we have witnesses to pragmatic solutions and creative initiatives during hard times and flourishing times. We have had faithful companions who put mission at the heart of choices – women who used dispensation wisely for the sake of the mission and ministries.
I am grateful for those women who did not allow “personalities” to get in the way of a common mission but kept their eyes fixed on educational needs at all levels; for those whom “mobility for mission” was not just an ideal but who were willing to leave their country, to leave a particular house or ministry or career to meet the needs of the community, Church or society.
I think it is helpful to look to the past, not from pride or nostalgia but to be imbued with the spirit of all who went before us, those who made the headlines and those who kept the home-fires burning; to tap into the Christian ideals of service for the reign of God, the self-sacrifice that leads to transformation and the faith and hope in a God of history.
Our history reflects that of Dominic himself whose life was not clear or straightforward but had its disappointments and struggles. Elihu in the book Job (36:16) tells Job that “God allured you out of distress into a broad place”. The “broad place”, the magnanimous theology and action is the vision out of which Dominican history is made. This is our tradition that reminds us of the need to let go graciously in order to “live the present with passion”.
Sr. Helen Mary Harmey OP