Children's interview with Carmelite nuns

 CORNWALL - first posted 16 July 2001 - 720 words

One of the oldest Carmelite communities in England is closing soon. The eight-strong community at Lanherne, near St Maqgan, Cornwall is joining the convent at St Helens. Meanwhile their convent is to become home to the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

An inquisitive band of young mini-reporters from St Paul the Apostle Sunday School, Tintagel, scooped an exclusive with the nuns and found out more about life behind the grill. This is their report:

There were eight sisters based at the convent and two cats. They wake up really early, before we even think of getting out of bed. One of the Sisters said it was 5 o`clock! Another sister told us they don`t like going to bed
early either.

The oldest sister is called Mother Anne of the Ascencion. She is very old and has lived at the convent for 65 years. (This sister has the same name as the first Prioress of the English Carmelites based at Antwerp between 1619-1644)

We didn't see the sister's cats but the sisters came to say hello and spoke to all of us. They looked like they were in a jail because they were behind a big set of double bars. We were very surprised as we thought they would be unhappy - not being able to come out and play and enjoy themselves. But they all kept laughing and were very funny in what they said to us - you wouldn't believe anyone could be as happy as they were. They told us that the grilles were there all the time and that no-one could go in and out. So we asked "what happens if there is a fire?" "We just walk out the front door" was the reply, then they all started to laugh again. We found them so interesting.

One of us, called Takashma, thought she might like to join them when she is older.

They told us they had not had any vocations for a while. The last sister to join them was Sister Maria. She joined them at Lanherne over three years ago having transferred from her Carmel in Brooklyn, America.

The sisters are self supporting but people did bring in food and other things they needed from the local shop.

It was the oldest Carmelite Convent in England. Presented to the order by the famous Catholic family called `Arundel' 208 years ago. The only part of the convent open to the public was the chapel. When we attended Mass, we could hear the nuns behind a grille to the side of the altar. The first grille mentioned was located in a locked room at the top of a flight of stairs. It was here that all visitors and relatives of the sisters came to talk to the sisters. When the local paper interviewed the sisters they could not see them as they kept the curtain drawn. We were privileged to see the cheerful faces of the sisters.

The sisters had their own chaplain, Fr John Milne. He told us that he was only able to talk to the sisters in the same way we had, through the grille. This surprised us all!

The Sisters spend a lot of their day praying. They go to Mass and say many prayers together as a `family` and many by themselves. They all eat together. The rest of the day is spent in their own room which is called a
`cell'. They don`t eat meat and are very strict with their diet. Every day from September 14th to Easter, except Sundays, is a fast day, when they don't eat very much.

Like Baby Jesus in the manger, they each sleep on a straw mattress. Perhaps they do it to feel closer to him!

We enjoyed our time with the sisters and thank them for their time and enjoyment they gave us.we shall never forget their sense of humour.

When asked to say in one sentence why anyone should want to come and join them, they said"Why not?"and "It's the best life going". From the laughter and enjoyment on their faces. We honestly believe them!

We pray that they will continue to serve the Lord in St Helen's where they are moving as they have done here in Cornwall.We will miss them.

Reporters: Miriam, Gisela, Matthew, Gregory, Takashma and Estelle.

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