Hackney – St Joseph’s Convent

hackneyThe story of the daily lives of the sisters residing at St Joseph’s Convent, Hackney has been told in many formats over the years. The Annals probably provide the most authentic version of the lives of the sisters at any given time with an account of their ministries and activities.

Taking up the story from 2007 when St Joseph’s was the largest community in the Province it can be confirmed that it still holds that position in 2012 even though many changes have taken place. Approaching 2008 there were sixteen sisters in the community and at the end of 2012 the overall number had not changed.

At the beginning of this period in the history of St Joseph’s Convent, the Provincial Leader and her team were faced with making a momentous decision on how to proceed with the Convent premises in the light of changing circumstances. The Convent was situated in the midst of St Joseph’s Hospice buildings, which was desirable at an earlier period, but at this time the Congregation had directed that the Convent and Hospice should separate, allowing the latter to become a limited company.  There was also the fact that more sisters were in need of residential care and the present space was limited. Finally a decision was made to vacate the present Convent and erect a stand alone, purpose built one within the grounds allocated to the Convent and Hospice. It took imagination, discernment and courage to find a large enough site for the proposed new building but it eventually happened. In the space of three years a new spacious Convent was built with the first sisters taking up residence in October 2010. By April 2011, when the major snagging issues were dealt with, all the remaining sisters moved across, delighted with their new accommodation. In order to have a dedicated care unit, instead of one large community, St Joseph’s became two communities, sharing the same Local Leader.

During this time of transition there were many changes in personnel, some planned others unavoidable. The Local Leaders changed hands in 2010 bidding farewell to Sr Catherine Egan who had steered the sisters through the planning stage of the building project. Catherine also visited Hospice patients in the capacity of Chaplain. A warm welcome was extended to Sr Jacinta Rankin, appreciating her generosity in accepting what proved to be a mammoth task ahead. With the help of the Sisters, her first task was to clear out the old Convent in readiness to be handed over to the Hospice. Then the new building became the focus of attention until the Architect, Building Contractor and Engineers completed their work. At the same time Jacinta set about creating a lived-in, comfortable and welcoming Convent.

Since 2007 ten sisters were called to their eternal reward namely: Sisters Teresita Halligan (2007); Francis Clare Reidy (2007); Mary Wynne (2008); Jane Francis Fleming (2008); Petronilla Maher (2009); John Fisher McSorley (2010); Mary O’Sullivan (2011); Cyprian Cotter (2011); Margaret Devlin who joined the community in 2009 and died in 2011 and Cecilia Rafter, a somewhat younger Sister, was a member of the Community during the last year of her life. She died peacefully in Dublin in 2011.    May they rest in peace!

hackney 1st floorThe Care Floor has accommodation for nine sisters.  The individual rooms and general lay out is designed so that full nursing care can be provided when required but also with sufficient space for the sisters to pursue their own individual interests. The present community members are: Sisters Joseph Brigid Sinnott, Celine Corrigan, Eithne Breen, Kathleen Byrne, Nuala Gaffney, Marie Madden, Carmel Bernadette Keegan, Brigid Naulty and John Emmanual Murphy. The Convent forecourt and Hospice grounds are an added attraction for the sisters especially during the summer months. The sisters make a daily trip across the garden to the Hospice Chapel for Mass and are only deterred by ice or snow which fortunately is reasonably rare. On such occasions a Eucharistic Service is held either in the Convent Chapel or on the Care Floor. The dining room takes on many shapes and is decorated for feast-day and birthday parties and all such celebrations. The corridor circulating area is used as quiet space for reading, gazing on the beautiful gardens below, reflection and for group activities such as art. Like all other communities the Sisters have the opportunity to attend an annual retreat, albeit a short one, and a holiday. The Province holiday home is reserved for them to have a week accompanied by sisters from St Joseph’s or another community to provide transport, cooking and share in the fun.

The second floor community are active sisters with ministries either in-house or out in the wider community. They have experienced changes in personnel in recent years as well. Sr Jackie Doherty relinquished her care of the older sisters in 2009 when she was changed from the community. This role was taken on initially by Sr Catherine Egan and eventually passed to Sr Helena McGilly who joined the community in 2010. Helena also attends the Hospice as part-time Chaplain, visiting Day Hospice and Hospice Wards especially on Sundays, arranging for patients who are able to come to Mass in the Chapel, or offering Holy Communion to those unable to attend. Sr Angela Murphy moved into the Community in 2009 following the closure of Queens Gate Villas. Geographically it was a short distance move, but as with all moves, it could still be a big change. Angela among other things attends the Jesuit Refugee Service on a weekly basis.  She has obtained hands-on knowledge of the plight of refugees as she listens to their stories and directs them to any possible help that may be available. The most recent person to join the community was Sr Barbara Kenny who, came again after another closure, namely Canning Town. Fortunately for Barbara she has been able to retain her ministry of Parish Visiting and can drive out to the Parish from St Joseph’s. Stability within the community has been maintained by the remaining members which is important both for the community and the local people. Sr Mary Brennan is Assistant to the Local Leader and also has Sacristan duties in the Hospice Chapel. Mary’s great love of the Eucharist and respect for Priests makes it easy to speculate which role she prefers. Sr Nuala McGinley, since her final retirement from education, has become a Volunteer in the Hospice which allows her to visit patients and help out with refreshments and befriend people who attend various Hospice clubs. She has also become involved with the liturgy in a neighbouring parish and leads a prayer group during Advent and Lent. Sr Anne Doran makes herself available within the community and has a regular commitment, as a Volunteer, to the Day Hospice.

The sisters are pleased to have remained close to the Hospice where there is an obvious prayer ministry and in turn it is often said within the Hospice how much the prayers of the sisters are appreciated.