On 20 July, the Feast of the Prophet Elijah, the Carmelite Sisters of Dolgellau in Wales celebrated 90 years since our foundation.
A beautiful cake bore the Order's motto, Elijah's words: zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum ('With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord of hosts') (1 Kgs 19:14). The prophet Elijah is a wonderful symbol of the Carmelite nun's vocation to stand in God's presence (2 Kgs 3.14). As Pope St Gregory the Great said, we stand wherever our mental gaze is directed. The Carmelite nun directs her mental gaze towards God, as she prays and goes about her daily work.
The Story of our Foundation
We watched two films about the history of the monastery, put together by one of our novices for the event. It was an opportunity to remember our collective story.
In 1928 the Bishop of Menevia, Francis Vaughan, asked Mother Mary of Jesus, the Prioress of Notting Hill Carmel to found a Carmel in his Diocese to spiritually support his widespread needy Diocese with its small number of Catholics and scattered lonely priests. Pope Pius XI gave the venture his privileged blessing.
On 21 May 1929, a group of eight founding sisters set off by train for Dolgellau, although they had been warned by a letter from the locals not to come. Pastors told their flocks not to attend the opening ceremony, but nonetheless 2000 came. The Holy Spirit seemed to seize people at Holy Mass. Those who came to disrupt Benediction knelt down with great reverence. Reactions warmed as locals got to know the sisters, and Protestant visitors were soon providing alms, glad and surprised to discover that Roman Catholics loved Jesus as they did. These days, thankfully we live in much more ecumenical times.
There was great poverty in the early years and the sisters struggled to support themselves financially by baking altar breads, living off the fried remains, and growing their own fruit and vegetables.
We had a picture of the house, with each sister depicted on a brick, to convey the idea that we are all living stones, making up a spiritual house. We stand on the shoulders of the sisters who have gone before us.
Sr Mary Katherine of the Holy Spirit
One of our hidden saints was Sr Mary Katherine of the Holy Spirit. She had tried her vocation with an active order, unsuccessfully and eventually entered Bridell Carmel in Wales as an extern (a sister who interfaces with the outside world). She came to Dolgellau Carmel in 1976 when we amalgamated with Bridell, thus making the last surviving Welsh Carmel.
Sr Mary Katherine's mission was to pray for peace in the world. All her sufferings were offered for this intention. When externs were allowed to make solemn profession this was suggested to her by the Prioress in 1993 two years before she died. Even though she was quite confused she understood clearly and asked to do so.
Sr Krystina remembers: "Sister Katherine was a very loving sister with a very special love for Jesus on His Cross. She contemplated Him permanently I think, using a poor little cross that was often lying on her table. Sometimes she was very confused in the mornings, and a day which was just beginning seemed to her a very difficult task to cope with. Then she understood that Jesus on that Cross said to her 'Do you think it was easy for Me to die for you?' and she began to go quickly to the Choir to ask Jesus for help, for enlightenment. She would say, 'I am lying on my bed, looking at the sky and praying for peace'. She often told me about her first encounter with a Mother Prioress who said to her 'Today is Friday. It is a day when He died for you' and she used to say 'I like Friday'. As well as being a loving person, she was also a very grateful person, and very poor in heart. She would refer to herself as 'a poor little thing' and yet always after conversation with her, you were aware of true wisdom in what she had said on spiritual matters."
Could God be calling you to a life of prayer, to be a hermit in community, set apart for God, hidden in Christ?
For more information see: www.carmel-dolgellau.uk (under construction).
Before joining Dolgellau Carmel, Sr Katherine Mary was married to the late Robin Daniels, author of The Virgin Eye: Towards a Contemplative View of Life , which she edited. See: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/31737
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