Sister Therese’s departure last autumn left a gap at Minsteracres. We miss her enthusiasm and big personality, but she also made a significant practical contribution to life here as the person responsible for hospitality.

Without becoming a permanent member of the community it would be impossible to replicate Sister Therese’s role, but we have made some inroads with the development of a volunteer position of hospitality coordinator.

Enter Marian Fletcher. Marian has been a dining room volunteer at Minsteracres since the early 1990s, having first experienced us as a retreatant. When she retired last winter, she decided she would like to give more time to a place which means a great deal to her.

“I first came on retreat with the Legion of Mary from St Bede’s in Washington at a time in my life when I needed a break. I came again on other retreats and I met an elderly gentlemen when I helped in the wash-up who said, ‘Isn’t it about time you young folk started to help?’

“It set me thinking,” she says. “The idea of being of assistance and being able to stay attracted me, so I started to volunteer with another parishioner. Daniela and I still come five or six weekends a year.”

However, a conversation with Fr Jeroen last winter led to discussions about creating a new role. “We didn’t know how it would work or how much time would be needed, so it’s still a bit of trial and error.”

Marian comes on a Friday evening and stays until after breakfast on Saturday, allowing her to get back home to help her husband with the care of her mother in law who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

The timing means that Marian is here to welcome weekend visitors and make sure everything runs smoothly. She helps the guests to settle into their rooms, makes sure everything is ready, that the tables are laid properly and that groups have the equipment they need. “Someone asked me about a guitar the other day – I was able to lay my hands on two!” she says.

Marian acts as general problem-solver. “One visitor fell and bumped her head. I made sure she was ok and got a first aider to see to her. I’ve sorted smelly drains, covered in the shop when Fr Mark is away and answered phones for Margo in the office. Today I’ve been shown how to iron sheets.

“I keep an eye on the wash-up, help with the catering and – another of Sister Therese’s touches – I make sure there are flowers on the tables.”

Marian also comes during the week to help with bigger groups. “I was here for a group of European spiritual directors which was lovely,” she says. “It can be very tiring, but it’s worth it because everyone is so grateful for what you do. People say to me ‘You make things so easy for us’. I get compliments for the whole retreat centre, which is great!

“So far so good,” she adds. “We’ve had good reports from various groups, and everyone at Minsteracres seems pleased.”

With the best part of six months trial to work on, we are ready to expand. “We want to create a team of hospitality coordinators. I’ve been the pathfinder but we need more people to provide greater cover,” explains Marian.

If you are interested in learning more about the developing role of hospitality coordinator, call us on 01434 673248, e mail info@minsterarcres.org, or contact our volunteer coordinator jean at jhaldane@minsteracres.org.