Jane at the Niland Centre

Jane Gonzalez

A DOMINICAN JOURNEY

The Dominican sisters I know and love and respect are real and strong individuals, in the way that Catherine and Dominic and Martin were.  They are women of strength, humour, dignity and resilience and it is a continuing pleasure and privilege to be part of their family.

My association with the Dominican family began when my son started his education at St Rose’s Infants School in Hemel Hempstead.  As a returning Catholic and a native of St Albans – where I was educated by the Mercy and IBVM (Loreto) Sisters – I was unaware of the history of the Dominicans or that they had a convent in the town or had established school in the area.  I had come back to the church via a parish mission.  Some of the sisters were very involved with projects that were initiated afterwards.  But, at this stage, it was an acquaintanceship more than anything.

Friendship with individual sisters and love for the Order grew over the next few years.  This was fostered via school of course, but was overwhelmingly due to the generous and inclusive hospitality shown by the sisters.  The joint novitiate, established at the convent for some years, brought the sisters more fully into parish life and the formators’ course introduced us to sisters from all over the world.  One of the joys of the summer for a few years was celebrating Mass at the end of their course, with the sisters from overseas singing and dancing at the Offertory.  The novices started a scripture study group at the convent… I attribute my love of scripture to those days.  It was a revelation to study the bible and to share faith together.   Sr Teresa O’Donovan was employed as a Pastoral Assistant and drew us, as a parish and individuals, more fully into Dominican life.  Eventually, the RCIA programmes were held at the convent and we even had some sessions for the Confirmation candidates when the numbers were small.  A joyful occasion was also the Open-Air Parish Mass held in the convent grounds once a year.   And of course, there were the shared liturgies, with parish participation in the daily office; at Tenebrae, during the Triduum, where I ‘bagged’ the Lamentations to sing on at least one of the days; and the presence of the sisters at Taizé and Sung Evening Prayer in the parish.   

I will always be grateful for the use of the convent library where I taught my son RE ‘A’ level and where I studied for my MA in Pastoral Theology.  Sr Bertranda Mulryan kept me going with coffee and sandwiches.  Our daughter also used to avail herself of the peace and quiet there (and the refreshments) as she studied for exams.   

The sisters were friends, mentors, companions and continue to be so.  The closure of the convent in Boxmoor was a great loss but the establishment of the Dominican Associates has enabled the connection to continue.  When the Associates form a parish group the circle will be complete.

I once said to one of the sisters that to be a Dominican you need to be an oddball… I meant this as a compliment!  The Dominican sisters I know and love and respect are real and strong individuals, in the way that Catherine and Dominic and Martin were.  They are women of strength, humour, dignity and resilience and it is a continuing pleasure and privilege to be part of their family.

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