Christmas Newsletter 2015


There must be in every Community and family fallow years and rich years. Certainly this has been one of the richest here at Brownshill, and St Benedict’s saying that guests are never lacking in a monastery rings true as we watch the comings and goings in the car park. It feels as if these were matched by comings and goings in the Community, because our community seems to have changed shape each time we looked at it! Julia a much appreciated former volunteer at Hyning visited at the start of the year. We are delighted that she has now begun her Bernardine Formation as a postulant at Hyning and wish her well. She joins Irene who is already a novice and who also visited us in the Spring. In the midst of all the comings and goings S M Johanna left to spend some time “Up North” and needless to say we are missing her.


S Elizabeth Mary has to do a lot of travelling, but in February, she had a very exciting trip…to our House at Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo! She left Brownshill on 17th February, travelling via our motherhouse in Lille, and by the following Monday we were able to share her travels thanks to the first of a series of long emails, until we were together again a month later sharing her impressions “live”, with news, photos of our sisters, including of S Immaculée…but more of S Immaculée later, because we would be welcomingher into our community in November after the much regretted return to Goma of our S Anastasie. Those of you who were served by S Anastasie in the guest dining room enjoyed an experience of Bernardine hospitality at its best and we wish S Anastasie well as she takes her gifts and talents back to Goma. So now we are very happy to see S Immaculée’s signature alongside those of her Brownshill sisters in this Christmas Newsletter! To complete the Brownshill comings and goings, we include S Hilda, who in August joined the Community for all of a fortnight, before going to Rome for a month-long formation course with brothers and sisters of the wider Cistercian family. But she is now back among us, busy replacing S Anastasie in the guest dining room, and efficiently coping with many other services in the Community.  S Hilda and S Immaculée are Sisters in First Profession - professed in fact within months of each other, and are now continuing their monastic formation with us.


We are often asked as individual sisters, “What do you do in Community?” But it is the nature of a monastic community that you can find yourself adventuring into all sorts of services, much to your surprise and not infrequently to the surprise of your sisters! Boredom does not feature! Formation does! And in spring we invited Gavin da Costa, a lecturer from Bristol University, to give a series of conferences, open to the public, on themes shaped by the Second Vatican Council, as we celebrate 50 years since that event.  So much of its teaching is still untapped. It is a blessing to have Pope Francis constantly challenging us to revisit our baptismal commitment, and in our Bernardine Order too, we have launched a year to reflect on God’s Mercy as it should be lived, and in the first place, among ourselves as a community.


For us it links nicely into this Year for Consecrated Life during which S Elizabeth Mary helped to organise two occasions bringing the Religious sisters, priests and brothers of our Diocese together. We gatheredto open this special year on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord last Februaryat the Cathedral of Clifton with Bishop Declan. After Evening Prayer, we were invited to a simple but most enjoyable tea where we had time to meet up with the different Religious families here within Clifton Diocese. This was followed by the usual Sunday evening Cathedral Mass at which Bishop Declan spoke at length of the role of Religious within the Church. The second event was a day at Downside Abbey in June, with Sr Jane Livesey, Superior General of the Congregationof Jesus, who gave the keynote address “Seeing with New Eyes” and leda reflection onour vocation as consecrated people.  These two events stand out as moments to appreciate the lovely vocation that is ours and the diversity of services we try to give in the Diocese and beyond.


At the beginning of August, S Mary Philippa went to Minster Abbey, Kent, for a session on the Eastern Fathers. This was excellent, both in the quality of the lectures and the opportunity to meet up again with other Benedictines and Cistercians. The warm and generous hospitality of such a homely community made for a perfect few days.  Among the many highlights was a visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church in Margate for their Liturgy. Here, too, the welcome and the most generous meal afterwards left us all with the real desire to meet again among friends. It reminded us too to keep in our prayers so many Orthodox Christians suffering persecution for the name of Christ in our own days.


In the Guesthouse, priests, deacons, Religious and lay people from within the diocese and far beyond keep coming. It tells us how very much the desire for peace, prayer and the experience of the monastic environment have come to shape Christian lives in this 21st century. Occasionally we take part in a school event, and when we do, we are constantly impressed by the generosity and reflectiveness of young people and their teachers alike. But we have to measure out our responses carefully, lest by failing to cherish our own calling to silence and prayer, we finish with nothing finally to offer Church or Society. We are all challenged in our prayer by the many overwhelming concerns in our world: outbreaks of disease, violence and homelessness.


But we also have very joyful challenges to share with you! Ours came in the shape of a series of celebrations to mark the Diamond and Golden Jubilees of Monastic Profession of S Mary Stephen and S Catherine respectively. One hundred and ten years of graces and joys were celebrated with a succession of “do’s”, Masses and meals, both within Community and with family, friends and guests. For part of the time our Prioress General, S Mary Helen, was with us and was evidently enjoying turning her hand to help everywhere, especially in the kitchen.  As both our Jubilarian sisters are less mobile now than they used to be, the Jubilee was an opportunity to show our affection and support, as together “one step more along the road we go!”…….



Before this though there was another joy as, in the Easter Octave, our Oblate Lynne made her promises for 3 years, and in so doing, she joins Pauline who made her oblation as a life Oblate on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception last year.


In September, another celebration: Our Prep School at Slough celebrated its 70th birthday.  S Mary Philippa represented us, with two of our French Bernardine Sisters who were staying with us, including S St. Augustin whose aunt was one of the founders of Slough in 1897. It was a very enjoyable celebration, beginning with Mass in a packed Assembly Hall. It was a most imaginative, reflective and prayerful liturgy, marking joy and pride among Staff and Pupils alike. After a delicious lunch and Jubilee cake we were able to wander round the school and enjoy meeting the children and Staff. We are often in touch with Prep School as Trustees. Earlier in the year, several members of staff from the secondary school, St Bernard’s, Slough, came to Brownshill to work on the school’s history. As S Mary Lucy is responsible for the Archives, she spent an interesting day with them sifting through some fascinatingdocuments - the community too were seen popping in and out to refresh their memories or just wander down Memory Lane!


As ever there have also been joys and sorrows, deaths and bereavements and sickness among family and friends and our communities.  When we arrived in 2006, friends helped us with some heavy lifting, among them a Muslim friend. This year Jawad’s father died suddenly. A little later, Jawad introduced us to his family, and at a moving ceremony in our chapel, we prayed for a much loved husband and father.


Such bereavement only mirrors the sufferings of brothers and sisters worldwide, and we know how greatly we need the loving mercy of the Saviour who chooses to come among us, in tenderness and mercy. At Brownshill, we are constantly grateful for the help of some wonderful volunteers, friends and helpers: Mary, Pat, Vicki, Rosalind, Bogdan and Sue. Painting, cleaning, cooking, admin, reception, so much gets done quietly and generously with their help. It is, of course, the essential message of Christmas, but this kindness extends throughout the year, as does the presence among us of Fr Peter: chaplain, electrician, plumber, listening ear. We owe him a great deal for his wisdom and his efficiency, not to mention his enjoyable sense of humour!


It would not be possible to name all the guests who join us in the Guesthouse or indeed in Community. We will name one: Sr Claire, who is working at the Generalate of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance in Rome, came to do a course at the English Language Centre in Bristol. In fact this is the same school where S Marie Apolline had been studying during the summer and as S Marie Apolline was full of praise for the standard of teaching and the care given the students, we had no hesitation in recommending the school to S Claire and, of course, we gained by her friendly presence in Community for a month before and a week after her course.


So we look forward to Christmas 15. We were touched by Pope Francis’s challenge last month not to let Christmas be a charade. Many responded on Internet to his strong words, showing determination not to let the clouds over our world blot out the light of human resilience and goodness. In our own town and neighbourhood, many take up the challenge to pray for, work with and serve the needy, not just in the wider world with its war and violence, but on our doorstep. To take just one example, we were privileged to host a meeting here at Brownshill of one such group, this time to give support to the refugees and immigrants who are coming into our local community. It is not difficult to make the link with that poor family of Nazareth, and lends an even greater reality to our crib scenes this Christmas.


And so for the year ahead: Brownshill has lots of plans, and we hope we will have lots to tell you in next year’s newsletter! The immediate item is that we have a refurbishment programme for the Chapel, as part of our celebrations of our 10th Anniversary here at Brownshill. Follow us on our website as plans evolve.


We finish with the words of Pope Francis: “May the world once again find the way of peace here at the threshold of this Jubilee of Mercy.”


We wish you and your families a happy feast of Christmas and assure you of our prayers for every blessing during the New Year 2016,


S Elizabeth Mary, S M Stephen, S M Lucy, S Catherine, S M Philippa,

S Marie Apolline, S M Johanna, S Hilda, S Immaculée