by Jennifer Hough
Article published in Galway Advertiser (16th of June 2005)
The Poor Clare monastery sits in the heart of Galway city on the aptly named Nuns' Island. While the hustle and bustle of life goes on around it, the silent monastery takes in every sight and sound from within its ancient walls. Seventeen nuns call the big white monastery home, and every day they rise joyfully to pray and give thanks to God, for this is what they have dedicated their lives to.
Sr Faustina always had a sense of being called to something. While her vocation may not have been clear to her at a young age, in retrospect she can see the signs were always there. She remembers fondly her national school days and the Presentation nuns reading excerpts from the autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux, a contemplative nun, and somehow as a nineyear- old she identified with the stories...
In 1995 she left the world as we know it behind her, and joined the Poor Clare Community that has inhabited Galway city since 1642. She was given the name Sr Faustina, after a Polish nun who lived at the beginning of the 20th century, as a symbol of her new life.
"There always seemed to be something missing in my life, I was always searching for a deeper meaning," says the young woman from the other side of the grille. "But I was a 'people person' and loved socializing with my friends, and of course like any other young girl thought I'd get married and have a family one day.
Dressed in the full habit of the Poor Clares, Sr Faustina may at first appear small and solemn, but it soon becomes clear that this 31-year-old is just as full of life, love, and joy as anyone can be. Her face dances with enthusiasm as she tells her compelling story.
"Looking back I can see certain flashes in my childhood that pointed to this, but my year in Quebec was where it all really began."
"I was a 'people person' and loved socializing with my friends"
"At that time in the Province (which had been staunchly Catholic until the 1960s) there seemed to be quite a lot of religious apathy, so it really made me look at where I was going with my own faith."
As the conversation turns to her conversion, the young nun's brow furrows a little. "I realised I had to make a decision about where I was going and what I was doing. Was I going to allow God to direct me, and take my faith more seriously, or just forget about the whole thing? I no longer wanted to be a just a 'practising non-believer'." The emotion in Sr Faustina's voice is telling. "I found myself in a church one day pleading with God from the very depths of my being, 'please direct me'."
It was a plea from the heart which was answered.
The very next week Caroline received a letter from her mother, with a medal of Our Lady and a recommendation to recite the rosary enclosed. "I put my fate into the hands of God and prayed the rosary every day for two weeks."
The power of prayer is a mysterious thing but for the young student, confused and determined to work out where her future lay, it was no mystery. She was beginning to realise what God had in store for her.
"A week or two later my life changed forever, and I experienced what I call my conversion. The orientation of my life changed. It was no longer about me, but what does God want for me? It's so difficult to describe, it was joyful and painful all at the same time." She laughs as she recalls how it dawned on her: "I realised that God was calling me to the religious life. I kept asking are you sure God? Is this what you really want for me?"
It was February 1994 when the young woman sought advice from a priest in Quebec who confirmed what she already knew in her heart and soul: God was calling her to a religious life. But why a contemplative order of nuns? Why not the Mercy sisters or the Presentation nuns? That would still be God's will.
"Yes, it was not only the idea of religious life that was entering my mind at that time, but specifically the Poor Clares. Perhaps because I had always known about them growing up, or because they have a very clear identity in the community."
"I was amazed as a student to see the lights on late at night"
Sr Faustina recalls passing by the monastery at night as a college student only to see the lights on. "They would get up at night to pray, this really impressed me, and stuck in my mind, but why I was so drawn to them is a mystery of the calling."
The young woman talks about her vocation with a sort of bemused wonder. "I often feel inadequate about my vocation but the call is a privilege and a gift. It doesn't depend on a person's good or bad qualities."
And she firmly believes that the power of prayer works to build a better world. "People often ask the question, 'why not dedicate your life to the missions or some sort of practical work?' but we believe that our prayer is at the cutting edge of every human rights need in the world."
Indeed John Paul II, though firmly committed to promoting hands-on aid to those in need, believed that the greatest humanitarian 'work' was prayer, and many of the nuns in Galway's Poor Clare monastery worked for such charitable causes before entering the Order.
"One of our sisters worked as a nurse in Zimbabwe, one was a volunteer nurse with Concern during the famine in Uganda, and another was working in Ethiopia with children suffering with AIDS. Social concern is very much a part of a nun's consciousness, but there comes a point where you feel, you know tha God can do more."
So the young woman made up her mind to become a Poor Clare, but how did her parents take the news? "They were absolutely magnificent. They supported me all the way," she says, her voice betraying some emotion "My parents are wonderful people."
Indeed this contemplative nun was lucky tha her family and friends were so accepting, not al are so willing to let their loved ones go. "It was quite natural that, through genuine concern for me, there would also have been misgivings about whether or not I was doing the righ thing. It might have just been a phase I was going through after all, but on the whole I felt a groundswell of support for the decision I had come to. For my parents and family, knowing that it was what I wanted was all that they needed to know."
So on October 7 1996, one year after she had entered as a postulant, Caroline was officially accepted into the Community and given her new religious name, Sr Faustina symbolizing the beginning of a new life in friendship. But can there be real life and friendship in an Order where silence and prayer are the main focus of life?
"The sisters here are funnier than anyone I've come across."
"When I first entered it was very difficult," she says, "and I did have this idea in my mind o nuns as silent moving statues, but I was really impressed and delighted at how witty and intelligent everyone was," the young nun laughs, "the sisters here are funnier than anyone I've come across."
If people sometimes think that nuns are so taken up with prayer and the things of God tha relationships are of little importance, Sr Faustina thinks differently. "This life, being a call to friendship with God and with others means that warm human relationships are an important part of our Community life."
She goes on: "The solitude and silence is a positive one and works to enrich the Community, and St Clare’s Rule is filled with wisdom. You can speak in a low voice when necessary, if someone is down you can take them aside, and of course you can speak to the sick."
The Poor Clares not only go about their daily routine which includes meditation, Mass reading the scriptures, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and making altar breads for the diocese in relative silence, but they have limited access to telephone, newspapers, and television (only at Christmas, Easter, or importan religious events) and can only see their family four times a year. The discipline of enclosure means that exits from the monastery are rare mostly for medical treatment, and sometimes for formation.
"All these rules serve as a kind of scaffolding to support and foster this particular form o life."
So does Sr Faustina, now a Poor Clare nun for 10 years, ever think about the course her life could have taken?
"I don’t really think about what I might be missing out on, when you choose one thing you give up another. Perplexities may come and go but I can say with one hundred per cen conviction that I feel at peace in my vocation I'm not getting complacent about it though, often pray for God's help to be faithful to it Everybody needs to do that no matter what your vocation. We can't do it on our own."
As the sun sets over Galway Bay, the nuns in the Poor Clare monastery finish reciting their evening prayers and prepare to retire for the night. From her simple cell in the monastery that will be her home forever, Sr Faustina reflects on the day with joy in her heart. She jus might be the happiest woman in Galway city.
University Activist Still Campaigning - Sr. Faustina's Story.