Life, Living, Becoming...
Gerry Coughlan

 Get Thee To A Nunnery!

Three of my dad's sisters were nuns; Auntie Margaret, Auntie Pat and Auntie Una.

While I was growing up, Pat was in Ghana and Una was in New Zealand. We used to get exotic gifts from Pat every once in a while; things that looked like doughnuts that were used by the locals to carry stuff on their heads and woven baskets that spoke of far-off marketplaces. I also recall some Maori handicrafts that found their way onto the sideboard in the lounge, courtesy of Una.

Auntie Margaret was based at High Park Convent, just down the road and we'd visit often and be made a huge fuss of. Nuns milling about, making brief eye contact and half-smiling. Lemonade and biscuits served in huge reception rooms that had highly-polished, slippery, wooden floors. All the better for the nuns to move around magically and suddenly appear next to you.
And what would you like to be when you grow up?

The convent had been a mansion many years before and sepia toned photos of the family of the original owners in their Sunday best were dotted all over the walls.

On the way up to the front door, there was a grotto with a statue of Bernadette kneeling at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes. My sister and I would race all the way from the front gate. There was always a fair amount of jostling once we were out of my mom's sight. Our Lady couldn't have approved of such heathen tactics to be first at the grotto.

Auntie Margaret was great. Not your average nun. When I was a bit older, I remember visting her at an office in town where she was working with young women who'd been led "astray" - a very Catholic phrase, just a small step up from "fallen women".

Margaret had started off in an order called the Poor Clares. They lived behind a huge, high wall and took a vow of silence. Absolute silence! Only one of them was allowed contact with the outside world, through a small hole in the front door. They've probably relaxed the rules somewhat now but that's how I remember it. Never mind celibacy, silence was a much bigger deal to a growing child!

Anyway, Margaret decided that walking around whispering prayers with her head down all day long was not how she wanted to serve God, so she went and joined the Sisters of Charity of Refuge and got a Masters Degree. She went on to become the Mother Superior.

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