July 9th is a special day in the Passionist calender. It is the feast day of Our Lady of Holy Hope and this year it was celebrated in style at Minsteracres with Bishop Seamus blessing the new Monastery of Our Lady of Holy Hope.
Visitors to Minsteracres over the past year or so have watched the new building emerge on the footprint of what was the old workshops – long since derelict.
In its place has appeared a beautiful single story building in local stone designed by its new inhabitants, Mother Regina Cappelletti and Mother Monica Curran, working together with local architect and Minsteracres parishioner Kevin Doonan.
Mother Regina and Mother Monica are the last of an order of contemplative Passionist nuns in England originally based in the Midlands. As the community dwindled and their house became too big for them, they began to look for a new home. Minsteracres, with its Passionist community, thriving retreat centre, active outreach programme and emerging green community seemed ideal.
Their plans were greeted enthusiastically at Minsteracres. As rector Fr Jereon Hoogland says, “They bring with them another dimension of community life through their contemplative presence. I hope they will be an anchor providing prayerful support to everything that takes place here.”
Sr Therese O’Regan, provincial leader of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion and a former member of Minsteracres’ community, shares that enthusiasm. “Minsteracres is now complete. It has priests, contemplative nuns, active sisters, a lay community, volunteers and the beginnings of a green community caring for the needs of the earth in the walled garden.
“I think the 9th July was a very significant day because it saw the beginning of something new and exciting in the completion the Passionist story and charism here at Minsteracres.” she says.
The blessing was the culmination of a two and a half year journey for the nuns which involved selling their former home and several moves, most recently to Burnhope where they rented a bungalow, before seeing their vision brought to life here in the north east.
“Sunday’s blessing was simple and poignant,” says Sr Monica. “There was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It was lovely to be part of something bigger celebrating with the parish and the community. Never before have I felt as strongly that we are instruments of God.”
Mother Regina agrees, “It was out of our hands. Everything happened as if a miracle! We managed to overcome all the obstacles we faced and here we are in the monastery, blessed on the feast day of Our Lady of Holy Hope, next to the Cross of Hope in the grounds.
“Our founder, St Paul of the Cross, escorted the first nun of his new order from his monastery to her new one across the lane. Walking here from the church felt the same.
“To have the blessed sacrament here in our chapel completes it. It makes prayer here very different.”
Both women were pleased with the warm welcome Bishop Seamus extended to their contemplative house, speaking of how good it was to be welcoming this new venture into the diocese.
The two nuns hope that their presence may lead to new vocations, although they realise that as contemplatives their calling is very different from others’. “It is different to live as we do and requires trust. Unlike sisters who teach or nurse, you don’t see the fruits of your labours at the end of the day,” says Mother Regina.
“For some people these days it is the spiritual part of themselves they neglect in their lives. The spirit is suffering today because people are not thinking about it and don’t understand it. Our biggest contribution is the support we offer through prayer for them and for all of those who contribute to Minsteracres.”
With this in mind, the monastery has been built with a separate entrance leading to a private room for prayer and access to the chapel. “We don’t teach or offer meals or overnight stays, but we do offer the space for private prayer and solitude during the day. We have already had our first booking.” says Sr Monica.