Sr Rosarie Spence is a regular on the programme at Minsteracres, delivering both quiet days and prayer days throughout the year.
“It all started years ago when I lived at Minsteracres as part of the community,” she explains. “There were days when the house was empty and it seemed a shame not to be sharing this lovely space with people, so we started to invite others just to come for a day, bring a packed lunch and use it for relaxation and prayer.
“Gradually people began to ask for a bit of structure, so Fr Richard and I added some input in the morning and afternoon and ended with some liturgy.”
This simple formula has stood the test of time and is still very popular, as the attendance of 32 people at our latest quiet day proved.
“Life is so frantic that it’s hard to find a place just to be,” explains Rosarie, a Sister of Mercy now based in Sunderland. “Minsteracres can offer that space.”
Although many people are regular attenders, others come to a quiet day out of simple curiosity. “We tell them just be yourself – leave your worries and tensions behind and the experience will build you up to go back out there again.
“It’s very unthreatening. We don’t expect you to do anything, which is a big relief to some.”
People come to the quiet days from all walks of life and for all sorts of reasons. “Last time, a man came from outside the diocese and asked to talk to me about prayer,” says Sr Rosarie. “He said that in all his years as a Catholic he didn’t think he had understood prayer.
“I told him that appreciating everything around you is a prayer and that maybe instead of asking for things, saying thank you might be a good idea. I told him to talk to Fr Mark here at Minsteracres – he loves to talk about prayer!”
Together with volunteers Shirley Mansfield and Christine Coxon, Sr Rosarie seems to have tapped into a need. “We’re all on a journey together. We’re here not to tell you how to be or to pray, but to support you in your way of doing it,” she says.
Between them, the three women plan the programme and the sacred space, often using the coming Sunday’s gospel as a focus. They have been working together so long that, as Shirley says, “We don’t need to meet in advance these days. We just e mail or talk to each other over the phone, do what we need to and the Holy Spirit does the rest.”
One young mother at this month’s event was one of those coming for the first time. She explained that she had seen the day advertised in her parish bulletin and the prospect of time away from the hustle and bustle really appealed to her. “You can enjoy peace on your own, but it’s extra special in a group,” she said.
Sitting next to her, a nun from the Benedictine order visiting the north east for medical treatment. She was delighted to be able to come back to Minsteracres, which she had known as a young woman growing up in Fenham.
Both women had come, along with 24 others, in the company of Fr Shaun O’Neil, parish priest of the two parishes of St Robert’s and of English Martyrs in Fenham. For them, the chance to be together with and meet other parishioners added to the experience of the day. “It’s a very active parish – we often do things together,” they explained. Fr Shaun had instigated the group expecting a handful of people and couldn’t believe the response.
If you are interested in quiet days or prayer days at Minsteracres, visit www.minsteacres.org or call 01434 673248 for more information.