Three regular visitors have been back at Minsteracres this week.
Fr Harry O’Reilly, with his colleagues Fr Pat McKenna and Fr Nelius O’Connor, all from the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, have been coming on retreat every year since the early 1970s, though for two of them their first visit was even earlier.
“Back in 1966 I came to a summer fair,” explains Fr O’Reilly (pictured back right behind Fr Mark). At that time the fairs were huge events and much anticipated around the diocese. “Then in 1967 four or five of the Minsteracres Passionist priests gave a retreat in each of the three churches in Durham which I attended – at the time it was a very novel thing to do.”
Fr O’Reilly and Fr McKenna also made a special visit in the mid-1970s to meet Sr Dympna Smith who had just joined the community. “We came up on our day off to meet her because we had heard that she came originally from the borders of counties Cavan and Monahan in Ireland – near where we came from,” says Fr O’Reilly.
Over the years, as well as their personal retreats, they have been to various events and visited with different groups. “I was a chaplain to Sunderland Polytechnic, as it was then, and used to come on retreat with the students. They loved it!” says Fr O’Reilly.
“I brought groups up to the youth centre for confirmation preparation too. We came with people from the parish and catered for ourselves down there.”
Fr O’Reilly is impressed with the improvements made to the retreat house bedrooms and bathrooms. “I’m astonished at the standard of the rooms, and having bathrooms practically en-suite,” he says.
To round off a great week, the warm welcome they enjoyed from community, staff and visitors, was mirrored with warm, sunny autumn weather.