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Visit to the Olive Muslim School Hackney

On the 3rd December 2018 the Mission Team in St. Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney (Carolyne Barber and Sr. Maria Coates) were invited to deliver an Assembly to the children of Olive School, Hackney. The Olive School is a Muslim faith primary school, established in response to community demand for high-quality education that meets the aspirations of local families. It is a Muslim faith school that promotes traditional British values and welcomes applications from all faiths and none.

The Mission Team talked about St. Joseph’s Hospice Heritage, Mission, the early work of the Sisters, and the service it provides today. Lots of pupils asked interesting and meaningful questions about the work of the Hospice. Sr Maria and Carolyne reported “We received a great welcome. It was a lovely afternoon which we really enjoyed and we were delighted to hear that the pupils wanted to raise money for St. Joseph’s Hospice in the future. The Assistant Headteacher has invited us back later this year.”

#OurTurn petition handed in to Prime Minister

Sister of Charity, Sr Patricia Byrne attended the submission of the #OurTurn petition to the Prime Minister’s residence, No. 10 Downing Street. In this article Patricia explains about the situation in the UK regarding Child Migrants and those who are working to alleviate the many problems the children face.

Sr Patricia writes “Despite the crisis in Europe of migrants arriving in large numbers the UK has taken in less than other European countries such as Germany, Italy and Greece. A total of 20,760 migrants have arrived in Greece in 2018, bringing the total number of arrivals in the EU in 2018 to just over 76,000. The greatest concern is for unaccompanied child migrants who are very vulnerable, not least to exploitation and trafficking.

There are now more child migrants in Europe than at any other time since World War Two. Many of them are unaccompanied and face a harsh winter in desperate conditions. Here in the UK the government has failed to respond adequately to this crisis taking in only a small number of children so far despite some Councils’ willingness to take more child migrants.

A campaign, #OurTurn, to petition the government to take more children in has raised more than 33,000 signatures and this petition was handed in to the Prime Minister’s residence on 5th November.

Before the handing in of the petition we met in Parliament Square, just across the road from the Houses of Parliament, to be addressed by members of the organization that had initiated the campaign. ‘Safe Passage’ helps child refugees to find safe and legal routes to sanctuary. We were also addressed by members of two Councils, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Ealing. Both Councils have already taken in a number of children and called on us to encourage our Councils to do the same.

The delegation to No. 10 was led by Lord Alf Dubs who was accompanied to the door of the Prime Minister’s residence by members of Safe Passage and some migrant children while the rest of us stood in solidarity by the gates outside.

It was a moving event as we stood together and reflected on this crisis involving children, victims of a problem they had not contributed to in any way.

Sr Patricia Byrne at the #OurTurn campaign gathering

A Joyful start to the Advent Season

Sr Angela Murphy relates the experience of attending an Advent service at the Jesuit Church in Farm St, London, organized by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

“On the 3rd December 2018 Sisters Helena, Angela and Barbara attended a ‘Joyful Start to the Advent Season’ at Farm Street Jesuit Church. The service was organized by the Jesuit Refugee Service. The readings which included both traditional scripture and poetry, were read by volunteers and Refugees gave us much to reflect upon.

The Service was led by Fr. Damian Howard SJ who encouraged us to think about those who live far from home, missing their loved ones. His homily identified the wisdom of Refugees, who uniquely have the experience to understand what is needed to bring reconciliation in the “complexity and grime of the human world”. He concluded “May you welcome the God of Refugee wisdom into your home this Christmas, may you sense His presence anew, inviting you into saving companionship”.

Highlights of the service were performances by the JRS Refugee Drama Group who were supported by Rise Theatre as they performed ‘The Christmas Goose’. This play tells the story of a husband and wife, the wife knows and loves Jesus the husband cannot understand how God could come on earth as a man. As the migrant Geese, the actors gave witness to their experience of trying to seek sanctuary: The system (Home Office) is designed to create chaos, to kick you when you are down. One of our Refugee friends who has been coming to the JRS centre for about a year, was preforming with the Gospel Choir, he said of his involvement, “It helps to counter the crushing sense of isolation that many of our friends experience, it rejuvenates the mind and soul, it encourages our friends to face life’s challenges”.”

Photos Credit: JRS UK/Jesuits in Britain’.

Jesus Our Teacher – Centenary Year of Education (Scotland) Act 1918

Our sisters in Airdrie tell the story of Catholic Education in Scotland and the celebrations for the centenary of formal recognition of Catholic schools in Scotland one hundred years ago:

This Act of 1918 brought pre-existing and future Catholic schools into the public provision education. This historic legislation qualified Catholic schools for public funding and opened the door to much more extensive access to Catholic education. Since then Catholic schools have flourished amazingly. They have demonstrated time and again that they are much valued and very popular centres of educational excellence, with many pupils achieving academic and personal success. The slogan adopted for the 2018 Centenary is ‘Catholic schools – good for Scotland’.

Srs. Mary McKeon and Agnes Morgan attended the Mass to celebrate this milestone in Motherwell Cathedral which was concelebrated by Bishop Toal and many priests of the Diocese.

In addition to the above celebrations the Diocese of Motherwell has launched an Ambassadors programme to support and mentor those entering the teaching profession. Also, visitors to the Cathedral in our Diocese will be able to get guided tours from local pupils who will explain the history of their Mother Church.

An icon, JESUS OUR TEACHER, was commissioned to tell the history of Catholic Education in Scotland. The story of the Icon of Jesus Our Teacher has been brought to life through a specially commissioned drama. The artist, Bernadette Reilly, presented the finished Icon to the Bishops of Scotland in November 2017. It has been on pilgrimage across the Diocese since January 2018 and the sisters in the Airdrie community were very happy that their parish hosted this beautiful Icon in celebrating the passing of the Act one hundred years ago.

Creation Time Reflections

During Creation Time the sisters in the English/Scottish Province reflected on the book ‘Finding God In A Leaf’ by Fr Brian Grogan SJ.

One sister wrote, “Here are my favorite passages in the book:
‘Everything in nature is a love-note from God……..the great lover who chooses to convey boundless affection for us. Sky, light, clouds, living things – the delicacy of the flower….these are the caresses of God.’ (page 19)
The cosmos is the monstrance of God. Everything exists in the womb of divine being.’ (p27)
I like the idea of ‘…the seamless garment of God’s Creation…’ (p17). Pope Francis says: ‘It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.’ (LS9)

The Leaf
The humble leaf attracted much attention during reflection times and some sisters wrote:
“Finding God in a Leaf’ makes me appreciate LEAVES and the important role they play in nature. ‘Leaves are small but well-organised living factories ‘ “ (p14)

Another sister who routinely sweeps up a multitude of leaves around the house each Autumn reflected on “A messy pile of autumn leaves is a divine mystery before being a problem to be swept up.”(p24) She writes that this Autumn she was less burdened by the task and memories arose of how as a child on her way to and from school she and her friends would enjoy walking through the fallen leaves and catching their fragrance.

Another spoke of reflecting on a leaf and how it had become quite obvious to her that God was present in each one.
A sister said that as leaves cling to the branch so do we to Christ and through him we are connected to each other and to all creation.

Tiniest Things
A sister wrote: “When Jesus said of Creation ‘Look, behold!’ I never thought he was speaking about the tiniest things”. ‘God has written a precious book, whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe. No creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: from panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form.’” (LS 85)

While discussing Creation Time one sister said in passing: “There was a small spider in my shower and he seemed lost so I showed him the way out.”

The Passion of Sister Earth Today (p48)
The adverse effects on Creation was noted by a sister:
“Reading this reflection reminded me of a recent programme on BBC called
‘Drowning in Plastic’, the damage being done to sea creatures especially and another programme called ‘Fashions Dirty Secrets’ which told of the effects of the fashion industry on the environment, drying up rivers and putting chemicals in the water and the effects on the poor families living by the rivers and lakes.”

Airdrie convent chapel display for Creation Time

“Through using the reflections from the booklet ‘Finding God in a Leaf ‘ I was brought to the realisation of how much I take creation for granted. That in pausing, looking and hearing the splendour of God’s creation around me, I am made aware of how I am one with it all. God loves me and all His creation as ONE. Therefore, I have a big responsibility of caring for creation.”

“Since reading about the season of creation Sisters’ (on the care floor, Hackney) have had dreams and thoughts about the planet. It has created a new awareness of the earth and in concrete terms in remembering how lovely it was to be in a garden and growing plants.”

God in all that exists
“I also found the little booklet, ‘Finding God in a Leaf’ very inspiring and could well be used as a gospel-like companion. My greatest awakening from it was ‘So God is to be found in computers, in trucks, cars and roads, in soaring buildings and tiny hovels’ and the list goes on. “Note that in terms of ‘nature’ and ‘creation’ we include all that exists…..what is manmade too’” (page 13).

Sharing Creation Time with others:
“The Book about Creation time-Finding God in a Leaf, I used daily and found it a real source for prayer.
I was giving a short reflection to the Parish Ladies Group for their September Monthly Meeting. That particular evening we were thinking about Water, and the gift it is to us all. We looked at a short DVD from Cafod, about parts of our world where there is practically no clean drinking water. We then moved into our little Chapel, and I read to the group from page 20-21 of ‘Finding God in a Leaf’ which is about the Holy Spirit in the work of Creation. We had a time of quiet prayer and then listened to the hymn: “Come to the Well”- by Bernadette Farrell.
There is so much we could use in relation to Creation in this Book.”

The Eucharist and the Universe
“ There were many things I loved about this book, this is one: ‘The Eucharist is embedded in cosmic history, it stretches all the way back to the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.’ The writer goes on to explain by offering an image: ‘if you want to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe…..flour is needed which requires wheat and milling equipment – metal, farms, soil, minerals, farming skills, seeds, likewise for apples- and don’t forget the bees. You will need to organize the climate, throw in the sun, clouds, rain and seasons. Invent electricity, add water, a few cloves and sugar. To truly say it was I who made the pie you’ll have to make the primary elements, which you’d sweep up from dead stars. And don’t forget to create a dynamic order so everything happens at the right time and dovetails with everything else! Now imagine what has to go in to the making of the ingredients of the Eucharist. How true it is to say that the Eucharist embraces all of creation (in all time).’” (p 31)

“May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”

A welcome frequent visitor to Clydebank Convent

A Day Out to the Heritage Centre, Harold’s Cross

Six members of staff of St Joseph’s Convent together with Sr Jacqueline Doherty spent a wonderful day, Tuesday 16th October, visiting the Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre in Dublin. The group tells all:
“We felt very privileged to be part of the Mary Aikenhead story. We were warmly welcomed when we arrived at the Heritage Centre by Sr Helen and Sr Agnes Rose – starting with a welcome cup of Barry’s tea and barnbrack.

The diorama story of Mary Aikenhead as a child and then through the history of how the Congregation started, was truly inspiring. From there we went to where Mary Aikenhead spent the last years of her life and where she wrote her letters encouraging her budding congregation. We loved that area, her table, chair, bed, bath-chair, cloak and rosary beads – wonderful!

After an enjoyable lunch in good company we were shown the chapel – so peaceful, beautiful, the altar area depicting the Washing of The Feet, bought by Mary Aikenhead with a generous donation she received.

Later, we were shown the new palliative care unit, immaculate, spacious grounds, wonderfully designed with a lovely still atmosphere. We were unable to see the Anna Gaynor unit, a hundred bed unit for the care of older people, on that particular day.

On our way out we prayed at Our Lady’s Grotto – as we said goodbye we felt like we wanted to take it all back with us!
Then we hit the road to Dublin City Centre – O’Connell, Henry St, Grafton St and, finally, Dunnes Stores.

We finished the day at the airport with a traditional glass of Irish Guinness. Altogether an unforgettable experience!”

Advocate – Serve – Accompany: Refugee Week

Sr Angela Murphy reflects on her ministry at the Jesuit Refugee Day Centre in Wapping. The Centre aims to provide a safe and welcoming space where a personal welcome and appreciation of each person is a priority. Refugee Week, celebrated from 18-24 June was marked by several special events.

“The past week has been a special one for Staff, Refugees and Volunteers at the Centre. It has given our refugee friends a chance to speak out and celebrate the many gifts they have to contribute to society. During the week they showed their appreciation at some events to celebrate Refugee Week and we went along to support them.

Wallace Museum: The Wallace Museum has one of the finest collections of French Art in Europe. The museum supports people who are refugees by training them to become Community Ambassador Tour Guides. Some of our friends from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) have become Guides. We availed of the expertise of our friends when we visited the museum. Each talk was given by a different member of the Community Ambassador Team from JRS. It was interesting to see through the eyes of the Guides the objects collected by Sir. Richard Wallace and to experience first-hand the contribution our friends are making to their new home.

Heythrop Conference: Refugee Stories, Changing the Narrative: This conference was a collaboration between Heythrop College and the Jesuit Refugee Service. It is a response to one of the aims of Refugee Week, “to spread the word and reshape the conversation.”
During the Conference three of our friends were given a slot called, Refugee stories: Changing the Narrative. We were delighted to hear Josie who stole the show, some were moved to tears as she shared her experiences.

JRS Gospel Choir: The Joy of the Gospel: A Gospel Choir Workshop. Following their huge debut success at Christmas, the JRS Refugee choir were back raising their voices and spirits on Saturday when we came together to sing, to learn and to share food. The Refugee Gospel Choir is one of the many activities JRS facilitates alongside the Day Centre. One of the choir members said “The first time I preformed I was nervous. I’m a good singer but not very confident. Before I would never put myself forward but now if there is a solo I will volunteer to give it a try. The choir has helped me a lot”. It provides a respite from the often uncertain lives of our refugee friends.

A visit to the British Red Cross: Some of our friends also attend the centre run by the British Red Cross. They had open house last Wednesday so a few of us paid a visit. We received a big welcome. Then we enjoyed looking at the art on display there created by our friends which was very interesting and colourful and which often told their stories.
The chef was busy preparing food and carving (yes, carving!) fruit; his display was wonderful, so creative. The women’s choir sang for us. When the food was ready we were invited to go outside into the sunshine where the food was served. A great day was had by all.

It has been a brilliant week which brought us together in a different way and hopefully has helped to change the narrative.

Celebrating Mary Aikenhead

There was great excitement here at St. Joseph’s Convent in Hackney on 6th June because we were celebrating the fact that Mary Aikenhead started her journey in giving her whole life to God in Religious Life. She was aged twenty-five when she joined the group entitled ‘The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ known more widely as ‘The Bar Convent’ because of its proximity to Micklegate Bar in York. The year was 1812. Her friend Catherine Walsh accompanied her.

We had planned how we might celebrate this important event the week before at our community meeting. We decided on having a barbecue in our courtyard which is beautifully laid out with raised flower beds and slender trees such as the gracious Silver Birch. Everyone in the house was to be invited including the staff.

The person who cooks for us rose to the challenge while Sr Angela oversaw the myriad of practical jobs that needed to be attended to in the garden, setting up of tables and chairs, positioning of umbrellas, distribution of crockery, cutlery etc, etc. All members of the community took part willingly in the preparations and there was a real sense of teamwork. Everything was prepared quickly and without fuss.

We need not have worried about the weather. It was a glorious day, nearly too hot. Some of the older sisters were protected from the strong sun by colourful sunshades. The main table was laden with food tastefully set out. It was a real work of art to see, satisfying even to the sight not to mention the palate. There was food to suit everyone’s taste from chicken legs to burgers, to spare-ribs. A great variety of vegetables accompanied this comprising colourful salad dishes with vibrant red beetroot juxtaposed with bright green lettuce and yellow peppers. Of course, we could not have a balanced meal without the humble potato which was of the
small, new variety.

Each dish was accompanied with its appropriate sauce. It was all so pleasing to look at. No wonder everyone was happy including the staff who comprised carers and support staff. About twenty people celebrated altogether. No doubt Mary Aikenhead would have approved of our big get together which was a most enjoyable day for all, sisters and staff alike. In the evening we joined with all our sisters throughout the world as we recited the Evening Prayer together, the form of which had been devised by Sr. Brigid Kelly. Our final hymn and prayer of the day was most appropriate: ‘We Glorify the Lord by our Lives’. We pray that we may continue to do so.

Mother Mary Aikenhead pray for us!

Plant Flowers – Root Out Slavery

As we grow in our understanding of the nature and scope of human trafficking we become more aware of its different aspects and are in a better position to challenge it on its various fronts. One aspect that is being better understood is the supply chains companies use for production of their goods. Most products have several aspects of production involving materials which may come from different parts and are gathered or made by people, these then become parts which are produced by more people and finally put together by yet more people (imagine a garment or a car). The people that are engaged to work in production are often grossly underpaid or not paid at all. We call this slave labour. So, looking at supply chains and ensuring that they are slave-free is both a necessary and extremely complex process, even for companies themselves as their supply often comes from countries far away such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, etc.

‘Plant Flowers, Root Out Slavery’ is a campaign which has been running since the beginning of June. It found practical expression when, during the famous annual Chelsea Flower Show, several people campaigned outside the flower show to raise awareness among those attending that the principle sponsors of the show M&G Investments, are major shareholders in a company which is being challenged for its use of slave labour. People interviewed were surprised that this company was at once accepting the fruits of slave labour while at the same time sponsoring such a wonderful event.

Since the Modern Slavery Bill was passed in 2015 the UK Government has worked hard to comprehend and address the crime of modern slavery. One of the ways that it is doing this is by making UK companies accountable for their supply chains. 10,000 of the top companies, initially, are being required to state publicly that their supply chains are slave free. So far only 3000 have responded but this is a legally binding requirement which the others will have to respond to eventually. One only hopes that the delay in their response is due to them ensuring that the supply chains are slave free or that they are taking steps to rectify any inconsistency.

This is a time too when we might ask ourselves about the supply chain to our wardrobe or our fridge. A good way to start would be to look at the labels on our clothes, where were they made? Is it possible that my top which was made in Bangladesh was contributed to on its journey to completion by persons who were enslaved? It is time we all became involved in challenging companies who endorse or collude with slave labour.
Patricia Byrne rsc

Logo and pictures by kind permission of Freedom United

Help stop profits from slavery in Eritrea

The Royal Wedding and the Hackney Hospice Connection

Our chapel in St Joseph’s Convent, Hackney has been graced by a very special bunch of flowers. The flowers were delivered on 20th May to St Joseph’s Hospice from St George’s chapel in Windsor Castle where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) were married the day before. Each patient was presented with a bouquet of flowers specially prepared for them by the Castle staff and there were some also for the Hospice chapel and for the convent.

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan was an amazing event. As Harry is 6th in line to the throne now the Wedding took place in the quietness of St George’s Chapel and not at Westminster Abbey where the wedding of a more senior royal would occur. Although I say ‘quiet’ it was anything but quiet, it was a national event which was watched by nearly 14 million people in the UK and by over a billion worldwide. It was celebrated with street parties all over the country and thousands lined the streets around Windsor Castle in the hope of getting a glimpse of the couple. The wedding day was blessed with perfect weather.

This wedding had a character of its own. The bride did not have adult attendants, but children acted as bridesmaids. The six bridesmaids were between the ages of 2 and 7! And they carried off their duties wonderfully. In all there were 10 bridesmaids and pageboys following Meghan down the aisle. Another characteristic of this wedding was the gospel choir which sang ‘Stand by me’ this and other elements in the service, the sermon by an American Episcopalian bishop, for example honored Meghan’s African American heritage.

Prince Harry is very popular in the country and the nation seems to have taken his bride to its heart. Meghan has brought a freshness and vitality to the Royal family. She has been described as having a keen awareness of social issues and is especially interested in women’s’ issues. Harry also is socially minded and together they promise to be a great force for good on the world stage.

Here at St Joseph’s Convent the sisters gathered in a party spirit and surrounded by bunting and flags to watch the wedding and all that went before and after. They described the experience as ‘wonderful’. Receiving the flowers the following day was icing on the cake because they provided a very tangible connection to this marvelous event.