A Search for solitude: The woman behind Grásta Dé

A Search for solitude: The woman behind Grásta Dé
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Madison Duddy

Such spiritual places of retreat will be needed to recover ground lost to the materialism of modern Ireland,” says Gráinne McGroarty, a Co. Donegal native who founded Grásta Dé, a group of hermitage sites within the Inishowen peninsula.

Gráinne believes this hectic world wears people out physically and spiritually, and a hermitage site is the perfect place to rejuvenate and connect with God.

Such spiritual places of retreat will be needed to recover ground lost to the materialism of modern Ireland,’ says Gráinne McGroarty.”

Growing up in a religious family, Gráinne can remember praying the rosary every evening. After attending Catholic primary school with the Sisters of Mercy and in 1996, joined the order of consecrated virgins in Derry. Gráinne’s inspiration for hermitage sites came from her experiences with Críost Linn in college, a lay Christian Eucharist centred community. While with Críost Linn, Gráinne helped look after hermitage sites in Ferns. “Such spiritual places of retreat will be needed to recover ground lost to the materialism of modern Ireland

“It just felt something like that, offering silence and peace and solitude, would be beneficial for people everywhere. I felt that the place where I live would be a good place to offer that kind of facility and that’s where I got the idea originally,” says Gráinne. “The land where the hermitages are now built was actually donated, so I took that as a sign of God’s province since the land was given to me.”

In 2004, Gráinne approached Bishop Seamus Hegarty, the then Bishop of the Diocese of Derry, with her idea to build the hermitages. After prayer and discussion, Grásta Dé was born.

“We prayed, and the name just came, Grásta Dé. It means the Grace of God,” says Gráinne. “Grásta Dé is a place where people can come apart to pray, a place where the life of God can revive in their hearts and souls. If the light of faith dims in Ireland, our concern for the poor, the sick, the old – and for the sacredness of life itself – will vanish too. The mission of Grásta Dé is to offer a space where people can listen for the voice of the God who loves them. Inspired and empowered by that love, they can go forth to serve those to whom God’s grace will send them.”

In 2004, Gráinne approached Bishop Seamus Hegarty, the then Bishop of the Diocese of Derry, with her idea to build the hermitages. After prayer and discussion, Grásta Dé was born.”

At the moment, only one of the five hermitages is finished, but is already impacting many peoples’ lives.

“It is used very regularly by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal,” says Gráinne. “They work in a very busy parish and they come regularly to spend time there. I see in them, when they arrive, they are tired and worn out. They are very different when they are leaving because they spend their time in silence and in prayer. They go back rejuvenated, able then to continue on the work they are called to do.”

In addition to the friars, the hermitage is also utilised by laypeople who wish to escape from the world and connect with God.

“I have seen laypeople who come here as well and I’m always impressed by the fact that people are changed whenever they leave,” says Gráinne. “They come, I suppose, burdened, and the time in silence and the time just waiting on God brings them to a deeper awareness of the love and healing of God that awaits all of us.”Gráinne herself has been to hermitage sites and sees them as a great place for healing.

“I have spent time in Ferns and I always feel that any time I spend away like that from the business of life, it just changes me in some way. I come back feeling refreshed and just to be able to take time to let God speak within. I can also think through things that have been on my mind and set those things in the presence of God, and the awareness of the presence of God brings a healing,” says Gráinne. “I always find that any time I spend in prayer, whether it is at home or at a retreat centre or a hermitage, I always feel changed at the end of those days apart and the changes, I believe, come about from the touch of God and the awareness of his presence in my life.”

In addition to the Friars, the hermitage is also utilised by laypeople who wish to escape from the world and connect with God.”

Grásta Dé still has a ways to go in finishing their five hermitage sites. Relying solely on donation, the project has come far but still needs €200,000 to reach completion. Gráinne is determined to finish Grásta Dé because she believes in the power of hermitage sites from seeing their impact first hand.

“I think that today we live in a busy world and a hermitage is a place of peace and a place that provides solace and silence in a world of hurried and worried people.

I think it’s really an antidote to the noise and frenzy, and a place where we can be still in silence and wait for God. All of us rush around searching for that which we can only find within when we remain still. It’s not easy to find a place that offers this kind of silence and solitude, and yet, for anybody who is searching for true meaning in life, I think a place of silence is vital. I believe God waits for us to be silent so that we can become aware of him and his love in our life.”

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