Rise of the Roses

A new initiative is encouraging young women to explore a vocation in religious life, writes Greg Daly

A new movement aims to help create a culture of saying ‘yes’ to God among young Irish women, and to support and inspire young women as they explore and discern their vocations in life, according to founder Lisa O’Hare, who says: “We want young people to be aware that there is a Catholic culture in this country!” 

Rise of the Roses, formally launched by Archbishop Eamon Martin at a St Brigid’s Day Mass for consecrated life in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, is about “young people ministering to young people, from the bottom up”, says Ms O’Hare.

Its members initially came together as friends through the Michaela Foundation, she explains, and are “based mainly in Tyrone”. (The Michaela Foundation was created in memory of Michaela McAreavey and aims to help young women to live confident, faith-filled lives with the values by which Michaela lived.) But the roots of the Rise of the Roses really lie in the Eucharistic Congress when conversations were held focusing on the country, faith and of course the Eucharist. 

In the congress’s aftermath, Pope Francis decreed the Year of Consecrated life and called for religious to “wake up the world”. Srs Briege and Joan O’Hare, aunts of Lisa’s husband and members of the Poor Clares community at Faughart, Co. Louth, wondered if anything could be done.

It’s long been obvious that “religious life is aging and dying in Ireland”, says Sr Briege, adding that Ireland’s religious communities are “at the point where we’re losing connections with a generation where energy and enthusiasm is alive”.

Marvelling at the “incredible energy” that was apparent in the Michaela Foundation, she spoke with Lisa and others, asking whether they might have any “creative thinking about how to reawaken a consciousness of consecrated life in Ireland”. 

“Nuns have been trying for a very long time to awaken enthusiasm and getting nowhere”, she explains, saying that their failure is “not the nuns’ fault – it’s because there is no connection with the imagination of the young”.

As various conversations were held the image of the rose became central, partly because of the association of roses with St Thérèse of Lisieux, but also due to Michaela McAreavey having been the Ulster Rose at the 2004 Rose of Tralee. 

This led in turn to the idea of visiting 10 convents – symbolising a decade of the Rosary – around the country, and so over 10 consecutive Saturdays from June 13, the Roses intend to visit a series of religious communities, each visit entailing tea, music, the Rosary, adoration, and the planting of a rose. It will, Lisa says, be up to the individual communities to put their own stamp on the day, and to work with local support. They discerned, she said, for a long time over where to go.

The tour will start at Sr Briege’s community at Faughart, which Sr Briege points out is an important symbolic choice. “It’s symbolic,” she says, “because it’s here St Brigid was born, and it was St Brigid who instituted religious life in Ireland in the 5th Century”.

Lisa feels God has been helping them build the movement, putting people in place at the right times. She cites how two of the girls were in America and while at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville saw an image in a painting that they realised would be a perfect logo. They contacted the artist, Lin Swensson, who gave them permission to use and modify it, changing colours and adding three roses to the logo. 


Explaining why the emblem features a white rose flanked by two red roses, she explains, “You’re a rose if you’re a young girl and promise yourself and open your heart to Jesus, and let him take you where he wants to.” The white rose, she said, stands for consecrated sisters, who she says are “not better, and no more beautiful, than other roses, but are different”. The aim is to “create a culture of girls who’ve said yes, and so the red roses can support those girls who go for consecrated life”.

One such girl is 17-year-old Catherine Canavan from Ballygawley’s St Ciaran’s College, who first got involved through volunteering at the Michaela Foundation. About 40 people attended her first meeting, she says, and “ever since meetings have been growing from strength to strength”, with numbers growing as people have told their friends at school about it. 

Unlike some of her fellow Roses, Catherine says she hasn’t yet visited any convents, but that she has met some sisters at Roses meetings. 

Describing the sisters as “inspirational”, she says the meetings offer a “great opportunity to meet them and see what caused them to give their lives to Christ”.

“People our age don’t get to meet such people,” she adds.

Although she is not sure which of the 10 convents she will visit, she says she is “really looking forward” to taking part in the Roses tour, saying “it’s really exciting to learn about the different convents and what the nuns do there. Young people don’t know anything about the lives of sisters – before Rise of the Roses I’d never met nuns or known the differences between them.”

Sr Briege says she finds “extraordinary” the kind of excitement shown by Catherine and others, saying she’s not seen young people excited by the idea of a consecrated life since she was a teenager. 

Declaring herself “amazed” by how Rise of the Roses have caught on, she says she is sure the Holy Spirit lies behind it. “Lisa and her team have just lit a fire”, she says, adding that there’s something “prophetic” in this effort by young women to revive Ireland’s lost enthusiasm for “the wonderful magic of a consecrated life”.


Catherine hopes her involvement in Rise of the Roses will enable her to learn more about such things, and hopes the group will encourage young girls to think about becoming a nun as an option in life. For too many young people, she says, there’s “an image of nuns as old women”, but hopefully the Rise of the Roses will help show young girls that a religious life is “an admirable vocation to follow”.

Careful to stress that the group is not “recruiting for nuns”, Lisa says she hopes it will help to “throw open the curtains” on religious life as a way of “celebrating religious life in this country”, and that she envisages the group as providing a “nurturing ground where girls can explore in a way that’s under the radar, buying them time.”

“It can give a bit of protection while they explore without pressure,” she says, observing how when women visit religious communities they can struggle under the weight of others’ expectations.

About 50 to 60 people meet on a monthly basis in Ballygawley. In practice, she says, this is “a team-building hub”, and Lisa openly says she has “no idea” how many people will come along on the tour, though she expects the movement to “take flesh as it moves”.

Describing Rise of the Roses as a simple attempt to answer the Church’s call for the laity to be God’s hands and feet in the world with its priority being “planting seeds”, Lisa cheerfully admits that she doesn’t know what fruit those seeds might be bear.

“The important thing is to let this be God’s thing, not our own,” she says. “We mustn’t try to put our own stamp on it. We just need to trust God.”


For more information see www.riseoftheroses.org


Rise of the Roses Summer Tour 2015

June 13     Poor Clares, Monastery of the Light of Christ, Faughart

June 20     Sisters of Adoration and Reparation, Belfast

June 27     Redemptoristine Sisters, Monastery of St Alphonsus, Dublin

July 4        Dominican Contemplative Nuns at St Catherine of Siena Monastery and Franciscan Sisters of                     the Renewal, Drogheda

July 11      Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, Athlone

July 18      Carmelite Sisters, New Ross

July 25      Cistercian Sisters, St Mary’s Abbey, Glencairn

August 1   Salesian Sisters, Fernbank, Limerick

August 8    Poor Clares, Galway

August 15  Knock Shrine.