Sr Máire Bríd of the Drumcondra Redemptoristines has followed God’s call to the very margins of human experience: enclosed, monastic life. It wasn’t a step she took lightly. Asked whether it took courage at the time, she responds, “It certainly did”.
“It certainly did [require courage] because it was going against the grain. It was so unusual, especially enclosed life. I think for family and friends, if I became a religious sister who was teaching, they’d understand more the value of it, or it would make sense with my career, we’ll say.
“But I was really going against the grain with the enclosed life and I suppose at the time I wasn’t a person who shared my faith much with others. I was only really getting to know myself and getting to know my faith so it was a shock for a lot of people,” she tells The Irish Catholic.
“There was that sense of going against the grain and also, in my own journey, trying to work out whether I was doing the right thing, whether it was really what God wanted, or whether I was just going crazy and trying to escape something.
“Was I just not happy as a teacher and trying to run away, you know? Or was there something else going on…so it was trying to work out what God’s will was in it all, and then having the courage to push on even though, you know, it was so hard for my family and for friends and everyone, that I was just leaving. That was hard.”
Where does a faith that allows you to follow God no matter where he calls you come from? Sr Bríd says her parents instilled it, although it was far from perfect at the start.
“I was always brought up in the Faith and I would give that credit to my parents, really. But I suppose what I wasn’t aware of was that deep relationship with God. It was about going to Mass, it was about being a good person, but it wasn’t a close relationship. I discovered that relationship when I was much older, when I was in my 20s and I had become a primary school teacher.
“I had finished college, and it was just before beginning work as a primary school teacher that I had that kind of encounter with God, an experience of God’s love. From then on, my life changed in terms of that relationship.”
The change or “deepening” in her relationship with God came about over time, a process which continues today. While the echoes of a religious vocation rang in her ears from early on, but she thinks she “wasn’t always listening or ready”.
“I suppose, when it came to filling out the CAO form, before the Leaving Cert, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life. I remember at that moment thinking about religious life but forgetting it again.
“I enjoyed college, I worked hard and everything and made good friends, but there was something there I think that I knew it wasn’t my true calling or my true vocation. There was something there.”
Regardless, Sr Bríd is assured that everything along the way to her current position “helped me actually open my eyes and open my ears and actually listen to God”.
As mentioned, doing God’s word is rarely easy – still less when it involves leaving your world behind, in a sense – and Sr Bríd was keenly aware of this tension as she decided to take the step.
“I think for me at the time of choosing and entering, the most difficult part was the impact it was going to have on others. I know I needed to let go of that, but at the time it was very hard. I knew in some way that I was following my own heart and my own dream and what God wanted for me.
“I knew I was being true, insofar as I understood it, that I was doing what was right for me, but I knew that would be very hard for others to understand that, and where it was coming from. The enclosed life was, kind of, extra-radical in some way. When I came to the front door, I left my mobile phone behind and gave it to my mother. That’s so hard, for any parent,” she says.
Despite the difficulties, or maybe because of them, the life she found behind the closed doors is “deeper than I could have ever imagined,” she says.
“In terms of relationships, I think you feel everything more intensely here. You’re more aware of nature and beauty and if there’s difficulties in relationships, you feel it more intensely, but it’s the intensity of love, I suppose.
“I could never have imagined that it could be like this. I could never have imagined that it would be so difficult and yet so beautiful at the same time.”
Her sisters are a key part of both the difficulty and the beauty. On a human level, it’s other people that most often cause us irritation and bother, while at the same time being the source of the deepest reward and meaning.
“It’s definitely a journey,” Sr Bríd says, continuing, “on an ordinary, human level, when you put a lot of women together in one building, it’s not going to be easy. Different personalities, and in our community, we have sisters from different cultures. You have the generational gap, so there are just very different personalities coming together. There is that challenge every day, and maybe I feel it more intensely, but the challenge to love and to really come to know each sister and love them as best you can with God’s love.
“Without my sisters, I wouldn’t discover that journey. I need them to show me how to love.”