Sr Gabriel's Story

Trusting in God - Sr. Gabriel's story

Many of my friends were stunned when they heard that I was entering an enclosed monastery. I have a slightly 'madcap' personality and it was hard for them to imagine me as a nun! However, as I look back, I can definitely see a strong thread of faith has weaved through my life and the Lord has brought the various strands together to bring me here.

I come from the 'inner city' of Galway, so I'm a real townie and very fond of my native City. My parents have fantastic faith and I was very lucky to be immersed in an atmosphere where faith was such a normal part of one's life. We said the rosary every night. The participation may not always have been enthusiastic, but there was a certain security in having given the time to God, and I remember my Mother coming to bless us each night with Holy Water; we then felt safe for the night.

There have been a number of nuns and priests on both sides of my family, but, particularly on my Mothers side where they have gone back many generations, so in a sense I grew up with it. I was especially close to my aunt, Sr. Francis a Mercy Sister and my uncle, Fr. Frank a Columban Father. In addition, I had two cousins Franciscan priests. Fr. Francis was very close to my Dad, so we met him quite often. My mother had another sister called Sr. Gabriel in the Poor Clares in England. I knew very little about her as she had very little contact with the outside world. I only ever spoke to her once on the phone when she was in hospital a few months before she died. I know from my Mother that she had a lively personality and a very kind nature. All of these people influenced me, but the biggest witness they gave was the tremendous joy they had in their vocation.

Generally, our house was noisy and full of life, we were a bunch of highly animated extroverts who freely expressed what was on their minds; secrets were few and far between. I really hadn't much interest in school. I used to look forward to going home in the afternoon and reading, watching the television or playing with friends.

A memory from my childhood is that of reading the lives of the saints and thinking how great it would be to imitate them, but that it would be virtually impossible for me. My favourite saint was St. Anthony and I used to talk to him like a friend. I remember crying out to him when I was about 11 or 12 years of age (I was a very sensitive child and ended up crying over the smallest injury to my 'delicate ego'). I didn't receive the answer I was looking for, but in hindsight I can see that he answered that prayer in ways I never expected. It has taught me to trust in the power of the intercession of the saints, even though we may feel at the time that our prayers aren't being answered.

Our local church was the Franciscan Friary; I was in the choir there and was also a member of the Junior Legion of Mary, which gave me my first introduction to group prayer and discussion, and I loved it. We had to visit some old people as our apostolic work and that gave us great satisfaction. The young people in our area attended a youth club held in the Friary Hall, so a lot of my formative years were influenced by a strong Franciscan presence.

I was lucky to make some fantastic friends, when I went to College. I formed a good friendship with a fellow Galwegian called Marina who was also doing Commerce in the local university. I had a great time in College; exams were secondary to the whirlwind of a social life. I have to admit to spending far more time drinking cups of coffee in the restaurant than studying in the library. Actually thinking back on it, I didn't do too well in my exams, but I made many friends and learnt a lot about life and people, After College I eventually got a job as a trainee accountant and after failing the exams a few times, I finally qualified in 1989.

A major turning point in my life, was in 1985 when my Dad brought home a video about Medjugorje. I found it fascinating and was amazed at the fact that Our Lady could actually be appearing to a group of young people in our time. I guess I associated apparitions with Lourdes and Knock which both occurred in the 19th Century.

Fr. Slavko came to the Abbey in Galway in 1985. I went to see him and felt very drawn by Our Lady's messages and the fact that she was calling us to holiness of life, something I thought was reserved for Saints. I began a search for God and a desire to grow in His Love. I eventually found myself going to a prayer meeting in 1987 with Marina. There we were introduced to a deeper prayer life and also a great understanding and love for Scripture and the beautiful teaching of the Catholic Church. As a group under the guidance of Fr. Des O'Malley R.I.P. we were involved in running 'Life in the Spirit' seminars. They are a great means of evangelisation and of helping people form a personal relationship with the Lord.

I went to Medjugorje for the first time in 1988; I had been hesitant about going as I was afraid that Our Lady would appear to me!! I think I would have overcome that fear rather quickly if Our Blessed Mother had bestowed such a tremendous gift on me. I went to Medjugorje three times and it became familiar, like a second home in some ways; a place where one is literally at home in the heart of one's mother. I feel that Our Lady is calling us back to live a true Christian life based on Gospel values. It is the path to holiness and happiness; as our Mother she wants the very best for us. I felt myself being drawn into a great love for prayer and a great desire to bring the message of God's love to people, so they could experience how much He loves each of His children.

I started a new job with Local Government Audit in 1991and for the first time in my life I had a decent wage and could buy a nice car and could go on one or two holidays a year.

Despite the fact that I was blessed in many ways I still felt there was more and I wasn't sure what that more was, but, I felt a growing attraction for a life committed to prayer. I went to Lough Derg (a place of pilgrimage) in 1991 and there I met a Franciscan sister who belonged to an active order. That prompted me to check out some Franciscan active orders, but I still felt it wasn't what I was looking for.

I spoke to Fr. Des about the attraction to Religious life and he suggested that I read the 'Story of A Soul' by St. Therese. I have been enthralled by her ever since and have tried to adopt her little way in my life; the way of surrender and simplicity. Mind you I haven't been making a very good job of it but I just keep trying.

A friend of mine entered the Carmelites in Knock in 1992 and I got to know some of the sisters through visiting her. I loved chatting with the sisters and especially with my love of St. Therese, I began to wonder if this was where the Lord was calling me. So here I was with a great love for Our Lady and St. Therese and yet as I knew that my Franciscan roots ran very deep I was very confused about where the Lord wanted me to go.

Around this time I happened to be in the Abbey attending Mass. Some new members were being professed as Secular Franciscans. I got this mad urge to go up and ask if I could be professed also. I said it to my Mother who was with me and she encouraged me to go ahead. Up I ran and asked if I could join the line of people, to be told by the president that she'd talk to me later. Much to my embarrassment she told me that I'd have to attend formation classes for a year before I could be professed.

The more I got to know about Franciscan spirituality, the more I felt it spoke to me; it sat well with me. 
Eventually I went to visit the Poor Clares with some friends. We met Mother Mary, who was the Abbess, and she was very encouraging. That year, Marina and I went to Italy and spent a week in Assisi. We were fortunate to meet with an English speaking Poor Clare. She gave us great insight into discerning a call to the religious life and told us about her own calling and the process of discernment that she went through. Marina entered the following year. I had an occasional visit with her and she seemed to be settling in very well.

The next two years were difficult in many ways. I experienced An attraction to the Poor Clares, but also found it hard to give up my job and the things I enjoyed in life. Towards the end of the summer, I was experiencing a lot of inner turmoil. The girls I was living with in Limerick advised me to go and visit a friend of theirs, a Salesian sister. She helped calm me down and come to a decision. In order to find peace within myself I knew I'd have to give it a shot, so in September of that year I told Mother Mary that I would like to enter.

A few months before I entered I was clearing out the suitcase under my bed and discovered the letters from my aunt, Mother Gabriel written to my Mother in the 60's. In one dated 1964, she had written, "Kitty (my Mother) will you pray for postulants, little Maura is too young to enter yet!" I was nearly 2 at the time. After reading the letter I could feel her presence with me and she has been with me in spirit right through my journey.

I entered on 26th April 1995, the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. I found it difficult to adapt in some ways to the new setting I found myself in; there was a lot of resistance within me to some aspects of my new life. It is only in later years that I have learned to appreciate the formation I received, especially the encouragement to develop a deep prayer life and grow in the Franciscan charism. It is such a beautiful way of life, focussing on Love and Unity - in order to build up this 'House of God'. If one remains open to the Holy Spirit, He can lead one to greater self-acceptance and subsequently a greater capacity to give of oneself to others. The late Pope John Paul II often spoke of the importance of becoming a gift for others.

I was due to make my Solemn Profession on 26th April 2001, but twelve days before that I had an accident in which I lost four fingers. I spent six weeks in hospital and more time recuperating back in the monastery. It was a very traumatic time for me, but, I have come to realise that the Lord can bring good out even the most difficult situations; indeed I have received innumerable blessings in the last few years and I feel the Lord has enabled me to reach out to others with greater compassion.

I finally made my Solemn Profession on 7th October 2003. My heart was bursting with joy and gratitude to the Lord for staying with me and making my dream come true. The community here have been outstanding in their support; I have witnessed heroic patience and charity from the sisters and truly rejoice that the Lord has granted me a place in the 'House of Joy'.

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Do not be afraid of Christ!
He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.
When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundred-fold in return.
Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ - and you will find true life.

Pope Benedict XVI