The General Leadership Team organises a six-week programme for preparation for final vows every second year. Sisters who are in their fifth and sixth year of temporary profession are invited to the programme together with those who would have made final vows but had not had a chance to attend the programme for various reasons. Competent presenters are invited to present on different topics. The programme also includes sharing life in the community with Sisters in the Irish Province and visits to important places in the history of the Congregation. Following the Mary Aikenhead trails in Cork and Dublin gives the participants an insight into the life and times of the foundress of the Congregation. This year’s programme took place in August/September and eight Sisters participated from Zambia and Nigeria. The following is what they said in their own words about their experience:
My experience of being in Ireland for the six-week final vows preparatory programme was a spirit filled and educative one. I had the privilege of living with Sisters of Charity who were of a great age and had a wealth of experience in the Congregation. These women are considered the “wisdom figures” of the Congregation. Living with them in the community, I learnt valuable lessons about religious life, one of which was the realization that religious life is a gift from God that ought to be shared in love with others, be it in the community or ministry. I also learned that faith, trust, and sincere love of God is the firm foundation of living religious
life fruitfully and happily. I equally had the opportunity of visiting important places in Dublin, Cork, Knock and Foxford. Visiting these places brought alive and made authentic all that I have heard and read about Mary Aikenhead and the beginning stories of our Congregation. Through these visits I felt as though I was physically present at the time with her. The courses we had on various topics helped me come to a better understanding and knowledge of so much that concerns religious life and the Congregational charism/values, nature and creation, human behaviour and relations, faith, and prayers as well as all that pertains to life in general.
The programme was really an amazing and fulfilling one for me. It has left me with remarkable learning experiences and encounters that will forever be in my memory. These will in turn help in shaping and moulding my commitment as a Sister of Charity. I am grateful for the privilege of taking part in this year’s programme held in Ireland, the birthplace of the foundress of our Congregation, I am especially grateful to God and our General Leadership Team for giving me the opportunity of participating in this programme.
Getting rooted into the very heart of our founding story
The final vows preparation program was very enlightening, renewing and refreshing. The experience closed the gaps and brought new learnings on the story of our foundress Venerable Mary Aikenhead. Little, yet important details which I have never read in any of her books were highlighted during the Cork and Dublin trails. Being in the country of our dear foundress, seeing the famous address (Religious Sisters Of Charity, Generalate
Caritas, 15 Gilford Road, Sandymount Dublin DO4 X337) that I have been writing to before admission to the Congregation all the way up to my final vows, seeing the sisters I see named in the Congregational directory, seeing, and visiting the communities that I hear and read about was like pressing the finger of Thomas for me. I just felt at home and had a great sense of being. Being in the actual places where Mary Aikenhead lived and worked from was heart moving, especially in her room where she spent her last 13 years and visiting her grave site. I felt connected with her, I felt her presence and it was real. I felt like a centurion at the foot of the cross when he said, “Truly he was the son of God”. My entire being affirmed that truly Mary Aikenhead existed, and her spirit is alive and active. The experience of visiting these places spoke the words of St. Paul to me, ‘’I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow’’(1 Corinthians 3:6 4). It was lovely to see the marks of Mary Aikenhead and many other RSCs after her in the places that we visited despite the many changes that have taken place.
With a grateful heart, I really appreciated the selection of topics, venues, qualified and competent facilitators, and the organization by the GLT was excellent and just the best. Another aspect of the program that I found very enriching was living in a community of 11. This gave me a great opportunity to interact and learn from the “wisdom figures” (Sisters of Charity who have lived religious life ranging from 45 to 75 years.) The warmth, welcoming and loving spirit of the Sisters in the Province and their willingness to help was extremely good. All in all, the final vows program was a moment of grace and a time of being rooted into the heart of our Congregation, into the roots of our founding story and our ancestral home.
I was privileged to be among the 2022 set for final vows preparatory program in Ireland. The program gave me the opportunity to be in touch with how I am experiencing God in my life as a religious through the different lectures, the activities of the day, my inner self as well as the community where I lived. On our arrival in Dublin, we were warmly welcomed by the Vicar General of the Congregation Sr Geraldine Hamukale and two local leaders from the Provincialate and Marmion House who met us at the airport. Different communities invited us for dinner during our time in Ireland. The Congregational Leader Sr. Patricia Lenihan and her team also gave us a warm reception accompanied with prayers to kick start the program.
The Heritage Centre was the place where we had most of our lectures. During the tour of the centre, it helped me to know my roots better, as stories of Mary Aikenhead were told in a creative and unique way. The climax was when I entered her room, and saw her wheelchair, bed, and writing tools. It was as if she was physically present and saying to me ‘Welcome my daughter’. At the Heritage Centre, I saw three figures in a frame. Sr Mary Roche (RSC) offered an explanation on the picture saying, “this is St Ignatius, looking up to God, He asks him, “Could you be a companion to my son Jesus.”? That struck me because a companion is a person with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels. A companion also accompanies, compliments, and supports; the list is endless.
Next, the friends of Mary Aikenhead took us to different historic places linked with her life in Cork. I was most impressed by our friends’ depth of knowledge about our foundress. They told the stories of Mary Aikenhead and lived by her Spirit. In my own words, I will call them “True friends of Mary Aikenhead”. I now see the importance of passing our charism to our lay friends, involving them in what we do as Sisters of Charity.
This program offered me insights into the many graces and blessings involved in intercultural living as well as practical ways I can associate with people of different ages regardless of the generational gap. What stood out for me as far as community living is concerned was that the Sisters in the community knew each other well and accept each other with their strengths and weaknesses. There is mutual respect for each other. They deepened my understanding of our charism “Service of the Poor” though some of them are not in active ministries, they serve the Sisters in the community, and they made the saying of Mary Aikenhead real “Our first charity should be to the Sisters’.
Visiting the Sanctuary (Focus Ireland), Oasis Centre and Foxford Woollen Mills which was established by our sisters, filled me with gratitude to God for what they did to touch many lives. This left me asking myself what more can I do “The Magis”
Personally, I experienced what I call ‘Servant Leaders’ with this, I saw leaders who understood their roles to be of service and they served. I admired their selflessness.
My experience for these six weeks was inspiring, educative, soul-lifting and challenging. I now have a better connection with nature as the ecological conversion is gradually taking place in my life. I am asking for the grace to make conscious efforts to put into practice what I have learnt and experienced.
My experience of the Final Vows Program
My six weeks in Ireland during the final vows program was an excellent one. It was full of wisdom, knowledge, hardworking and new ideas. I have learned and experienced new things, especially being physically present where it all started. What I read in books about Mary Aikenhead, I saw in reality.
The program has enriched me and during the course of the program my eyes opened more to see the connectedness of every creature and how good they are. Also, it encouraged me
to serve God more and to live my religious life in such a way that others around me would benefit from it.
I have learned a lot from our “wisdom figures”. They taught me true charity which I saw in practical ways, especially in Lakelands community where I lived with “15 wisdom figures”. They are responsible, friendly “women of God” who are rooted in the spirit of Mary Aikenhead. Honestly, I am glad I met them. My experience of them helped me to see that the way I live my life now will determine how my life will be tomorrow. Finally, may God bless the brains behind the program. Thanks
I was delighted when I arrived at Dublin Airport on 9th August 2022 and was greeted with a warm-hearted welcome from the Sisters and good weather, a ” blessed sunny day ” On my first visit to Dublin city centre, I was overjoyed to see so many people from different countries. Dublin, Ireland has become multi-cultural.
As my excitement gradually eased off, my focus was on the purpose of visiting Ireland, the program of preparation for final vows. The program started with the Congregational celebration on 15th August (the feast of Our Lady of the Assumption).
The program took place in the Heritage Centre in Harold’s Cross. My first day was tinted with tension because I lost my way. However, I was helped to find my way by different people.
The program was well organised and holistic, helping me to be more enlightened and knowledgeable about religious life, the life of Mary Aikenhead, the Charism of the Congregation, Ignatian Spirituality, the dynamics and importance of intercultural and intergenerational living, the dignity of the human person and the care of the earth.
Although I felt the weather was cold for me having come from Nigeria, I survived, and was happy one day that I did not wear my sweater or shoes. Sisters were saying ”at last” we are able to see your legs and we laughed over it.
The visits to other communities were enlightening and fun for me. It was a memorable experience. During my seven weeks in Ireland, I stayed with six Sisters in Providence community. Living with the Sisters was an opportunity to experience the wisdom of our elders. The hospitality, service, and love among them, in their weakness and strength, taught me the virtues of self-awareness and self -acceptance. I also learnt the virtue of understanding and sisterly love which I experienced among them. These virtues significantly helped me in my relationship with my Sisters during each class and I still cherish it today. I was challenged on issues of communication. I am more aware that communication is not just about talking but making sure that the other person gets what I am saying. I am now reflective before communicating.
It was good to be part of this pilgrimage experience, especially to see the heritage, the beginnings of the Congregation. The Sisters I lived with and met are indeed missionary by the way they live their lives and deal with challenges. I thank God for everything that I experienced.
The joy of walking in the footsteps of Venerable Mary Aikenhead.
I arrived in Dublin and received a warm welcome from the Sisters that came to pick me up from the airport. In fact, I felt welcomed by the whole of Dublin with beautiful sunny weather that lasted for two weeks. What a blessing.
It was a great opportunity and privilege to walk in the footsteps of Mary Aikenhead, to experience, feel, touch, and meditate on her historical background. The program for the preparations of finals vows provided me with the opportunity to be engrossed in the charism of the Congregation and learn more from our sisters about the life of Mary Aikenhead, the different ministries of our Sisters in Ireland and community living in Ireland. I was extremely overjoyed by the generosity, commitment, support, kindness, accommodating spirit, deep sense of humour and the hospitality I received from our sisters in St. Mary’s community Donnybrook, and the different communities that invited us for dinner. It was a great privilege to be in the midst of our wise sisters, listening to their experiences, joys, and challenges. These experiences were sources of inspiration and transformation.
I was delighted to live in Donnybrook which provided me the opportunity to visit Mary Aikenhead’s grave and the graves of our sisters who have gone before us and to pray for myself and the entire Congregation. All the inputs were inspiring and transformative. They challenged, enthused, transformed, and reinforced within me the joy of being a Religious Sister of Charity.
The visit to Cork, Knock, Foxford, Mary Aikenhead’s trail, the Sanctuary, the Cemetery, Oasis Centre, and the theological reflection, Ignatian spirituality and the entire program, as well as the facilitators were all delightful and graceful. The entire programs gave me a deeper awareness of our charism, Mary Aikenhead’s qualities and her trust in Divine Providence. The visit to Cork provided me with a better understanding and knowledge of what I have been reading about in the life of Mary Aikenhead.
Visiting other communities when invited for meals helped me to interact and socialize with other sisters in the Irish province.
On the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated in Caritas. I had the opportunity to socialize and interact with more sisters in the Irish Province. During the celebration, we were called out and all the sisters in attendance that day prayed for us. We were presented with a special candle, and all prayed for a successful program and experience. I was really fascinated by the whole process. I felt embraced, held and protected by the Congregation. During this ceremony, I felt the bond of union of minds and hearts.
Finally, I was delighted to be part of this program and I wish to extend my appreciation to my fellow participants, the Nigeria region, the Irish Province, Sr. Mary Roche for her motherly care, St. Mary’s community where I stayed and most especially the General Leadership Team for their great support, time, sacrifice, availability, prayers, and generosity in organizing the program in the Heritage Centre. It was indeed stimulating.
My experience of Ireland
My journey to Ireland from Zambia was quite enjoyable though very long. On arrival into Dublin Airport, two experiences touched me. The first was a kind airport official who shortened our waiting period and asked for our prayers afterwards. I was touched because it challenged my prejudice. I was also touched by Sisters Patricia (Congregational Leader) and Geraldine’s (Congregational Vicar) gesture of welcome when they met us at the airport. I was taken to Temple Street community, a tall brown four storey building quite close to the City Centre. I was warmly received by some of the Sisters who were around at the
time. I noticed very quickly the inter-generational gap between myself and the people I was to live with. However, I was consoled by the fact that we are one in Christ and in the spirit of our Congregation. Soon enough I settled into community, and it was not hard to pick up that
Sisters understood the needs of one another and genuinely cared for one another. However, for my part, I made special effort to put my observation skills to good use and contributed my own little bit to the hospitality in the community.
The program began with a tour of the Heritage Centre in Harold’s Cross, where the life of Mary Aikenhead was very artistically depicted in a story form with a voiceover. I was also privileged to see the room where Mary Aikenhead lived until her death. Throughout the program, we had other opportunities to reflect on the life of Mary Aikenhead. We visited her birthplace, her grave and other places where she lived and ministered throughout her life. I was very impressed by the Friends of Mary Aikenhead as well as our sisters who helped us reflect on Mary Aikenhead’s life, works and her death. It was evident that they contemplate her life. Listening once again to the qualities of Mary Aikenhead, this time what struck me was not just that she loved God but that she loved the sisters.
The program generally was beautiful, the topics were very relatable and encouraged critical thinking. The presenters were good and knowledgeable in their own right. I especially enjoyed the company of my Sisters, their openness and sharing, but most of all the humour and laughter. My experience of Knock was a privileged one and I am grateful to have been there.
I found the silent Masses in many parishes I attended quite challenging as they are different from what I would be used to. Getting on the (time) bus and using the leap card was a whole new experience for me; but I got used to it in the end. From all the things I heard and saw I realised that the poor are everywhere and will always be with and around me; but the challenge for me is my ability to help keep hope alive.
I am grateful to the Sisters in the Irish Province for their hospitality and kindness towards me and my other Sisters. I am also grateful to everyone who made the program possible. “May our Lord continue to give His blessings in all! Amen” (MMA 1845).
The joy of knowing my roots
In the company of my fellow Sisters, I travelled to Ireland for the program of preparation for perpetual vows and arrived at Dublin airport greeted by the heat of the sun contrary to my expectation. I was given a warm welcome by Sisters Patricia and Geraldine who came to pick us up at the airport followed by a lovely reception by the Sisters in Ard Mhuire Convent where I stayed during the program.
Our program was officially opened during the congregational feast day, the 15th of August held in Lakelands Chapel, one of our Convents. During the prayer service, every Sister of Charity stretched out their hands to pray and give us their blessings. It
was a remarkable day for me to meet all those Sisters and interact with them. I found the ritual very enriching as it propelled my mind toward the commencement of the program, and I was then mentally ready. I practically experienced the bond of union of mind and heart.
After the celebration, we were taken to Donnybrook to visit the tomb of Mary Aikenhead
for the first time. When we arrived there, we went ahead of Sr. Geraldine feeling the excitement of seeing the tomb of Venerable Mary Aikenhead for the very first time. We had heard, read, and seen the photos of it beforehand. As we approached the tombstone, a light shone from inside the grave through the glass door which really enthralled me. The atmosphere at the graveside was serene and reflective. As I stood there staring through the glass door of the tomb, I felt so much joy within me and a deeper sense of connection and friendship with Mary Aikenhead, the woman I am following and whose way of life attracted me, and all the other Sisters buried there.
On the 16th of August, the program kicked off at the Heritage Centre the last place where Mary Aikenhead lived. Having most of our sessions at the Heritage Centre gave me the honour and the opportunity of visiting the bedroom of Mary Aikenhead to pray, reflect, and even bond more with her.
I found the whole experience very helpful, and I hope that it will continue to be something of inspiration to rely on as I journey in life. The wisdom figures I lived with, in Ard Mhuire Convent were kind, and good to me right from the moment of my arrival in the community until the day I left. Their genuine concern and care for each other was an inspiration to me. Visiting Cork, the birthplace of Mary Aikenhead and all the other trails gave me a better understanding of the life of Mary Aikenhead. The courses we did were all very helpful and enlightening. The presenters were excellent during their presentations on the different topics. The whole program was a moment of learning, unlearning, and relearning, seeing the many great works done by the sisters who came after Mary Aikenhead. It gave me great joy and thanks be to God for having such an experience and connecting to our roots.
2022 Participants with some of the Presenters
R to L Sr Geraldine Hamukale, Sr Cleopatra Nakwenda, Sr Elizabeth Udofia, Sr Agatha Maurice, Sr Rosemary Agada, Sr Cynthia Nwaichi, Sr Sarah Youmene, Ms Clare Harrington (Presenter), Sr Francisca Obosherinor, Sr Blessing Ekanem.
Back row R to L Sr Sarah Youmene, Sr Cleopatra Nakwenda, Sr Francisca Obosherinor, Sr Kathleen Bryant (Presenter), Sr Blessing Ekanem, Sr Elizabeth Udofia.
Front row R to L Sr Agatha Maurice, Sr Cynthia Nwaichi, Sr Rosemary Agada.