We like an excuse for a party at Minsteracres – and last week we had three! Our rector Fr Jeroen Hoogland and provincial Fr John Kearns were both celebrating 25 years since their profession, and Mother Regina, who with Mother Monica will be moving in to a new convent in our grounds next year, was celebrating 60 years since she became a nun.
With three to celebrate, even with a relatively modest event, it was quite a day. After mass celebrated by Fr Tiny (Martin to quote his Sunday name!) and with an address from Minsteracres community member Lya Vollering, friends, relatives and staff sat down to a celebratory spread.
Fr John reflected on the 25 years which he and Fr Jeroen had shared. “As Passionists, the heart of our vocation is our relationship with Christ crucified. He took human form and emptied himself, undergoing death and crucifixion. We Passionists look to those who are crucified today: the sick, the poor, those seeking asylum and those in prison. Wherever you see the face of the poor, you see the face of Christ, but it also includes the crucified earth.”
He talked of his first impression of his fellow Passionist, “I thought, he’s tall, he’s blond, kind-hearted, thoughtful, hardworking, devoted and dedicated. AND he speaks English, German, French and Italian on top of his native Dutch!
“To begin with, Jeroen and I spent 12 months at Minsteracres, but it didn’t stop there. There were the annual gatherings of Passionist students.
“One was in the French province in Bordeaux. We were there to listen to learned lectures and take part in deep conversation. During one break, we thought we would take a walk and we spied a village which happened to be full of shops selling a great quantity of wine. If you went into a shop, we discovered, you had to try their wine. We did a great deal of shopping!”
The two men had come to their vocations through rather different routes. Whilst Fr John had worked in a bank, Fr Jeroen had taken the academic way. “I was discerning what to do after secondary school and thought I’d like to study theology as a way to a potentially broader path,” says Fr Jeroen. An early influences was an uncle who was a priest in a seminary.
“When I started studying I got in touch with a community near to where I lived which happened to be Passionist. I met Fr Tiny and was inspired by him. I could see the Passionists lived the gospel values and I thought their charism more human.”
At 19, Fr Jeroen was too young to be a postultant, so he studied for two more years before coming to Minsteracres to start his novitiate. No wonder his fellow novices thought him learned!
In due course, both men made their profession in their own countries within days of each other.
Mother Regina’s story is slightly different. She was born in Pennsylvania in the United States, the youngest of four children whose mother died when she was just three months old. Her three older siblings were sent to an orphanage while she was looked after by various relatives. When her father remarried, her stepmother reunited the family.
Despite her father’s objections, she joined the Sisters of Mercy when she was 20. Five years later, she joined the order of Our Lady of the Passion having made the decision to become a contemplative nun.
In 1963, she was one of five nuns who came to England to begin a community here. For a while they depended on the charity of others and at one point spent a year with the Cross and Passion sisters in Ilkley – a time, incidentally, remembered well by our own Sr Therese who was in the novitiate at the time.
Eventually, the group settled in Daventry in the Midlands and had the great fortune (following Mother Regina’s bold request of a wealthy friend) to be given £20,000 and a promise of continuing financial support for the next seven years.
In recent years, their community has dwindled from 14 and now there are just Mother Regina and Mother Monica still living as contemplatives. Having sold their convent in the midlands, they are living near to Minsteracres while they wait for their new convent to be built.
“I look back now at the strange ways that have brought me to where I am now! One big thing for us was the welcome given to us by the Cross and Passion sisters.
“Our order was founded by St Paul of the Cross to pray for priests giving missions. With this new development we’ll be going back to our roots. As contemplatives we still need some separation from the rest of the world. Most of our lives we lived behind a grill. In the new building, we will still be on one side and visitors on the other.” Both women are keen to be able to move into their future home living alongside a community of fellow Passionsts and we in turn are keen for them to join us!