Sunday, January 5, 2014

Enclosed Nun, Sr Monica

Sister Monica Boggan
Interviewed by Sue Leonard

On Saturday 29th July, Sister Monica Boggan, aged thirty, made her final profession, taking lifetime vows to live in the Redemptoristine community in Drumcondra, Dublin. The ceremony was shown on webcam, yet the order is an enclosed one, and the nuns wear a full habit. Why did this young woman from Meath choose this contemplative path in life?

It all started when she was twelve years old.
“I got the call, and I wrote to many active orders, but they all said I was too young. They told me to go out and enjoy life, and I did. I liked travelling and went on pilgrimages to Medjugorje, and to World Youth Day in Cologne. I loved that! I was involved in the Legion of Mary, and in the Pioneers.”

Sister Monica was working as a secretary at the time. She enjoyed life, going out with her friends to films and to discos. But she still felt the call.
“In January 2006 I felt called to Mother Theresa’s order. I went to London for a ‘come and see’ month, and I felt, this life is for me.

“I was sent to Italy and spent three months working with the poor, but something was missing. I didn’t have peace in my heart. I came home feeling a disappointment. Although now I can see I was growing in my faith.

“I felt Jesus was still calling me, but I didn’t know where to go. I thought about the Carmelites, but when I read about them it didn’t feel right, and one day I was in NUI Maynooth when I saw a notice for a weekend experiencing the Redemptoristine way of life in Drumcondra. I didn’t know the Redemptoristines existed! A friend, Joe was passing by and he said, ‘You should try them.’ He gave me the form to fill in, and within weeks I was called for a Monastic weekend.

“I remember, on the bus saying, ‘Whatever happens, Lord, I am open to being with the sisters and enjoying the weekend, and he surprised me big time. I came into the reception to meet the sisters and I had tremendous joy, and peace in my heart. When we sat around after prayers I felt I had known the sisters all my life. Something was growing in my heart. My desire to be here grew and grew from there.”

What was it about the order that so appealed?
“It was the contemplative dimension of the life. It was being in that relationship with Jesus, entering more into the silence and listening to him more. It’s also the community way of life.”

I first met Sister Monica five and a half years ago. She had entered the monastery just three days previously and was ecstatically happy. How have the past five years been?
“Very challenging, but very rewarding as well. I mean challenging in a good sense. I’ve been growing into the person I am today, growing in my relationship with Jesus, and learning to work and love the others in the community.

“To get on with others is not easy at times. There are certain sisters I trust and confide in, and others who might not confide in me, and that’s okay. We can’t all share with everyone. There are sixteen nuns in the community; the eldest is eighty-five and the youngest twenty-seven. The older nuns have a wonderful wisdom and their experience often helps us.”

Sister Monica is wonderful company. As we sit in a parlour sipping tea, separated by an unobtrusive wooden partition, she glows with inner happiness, and has an infectious laugh. Has she ever had doubts?

“Oh yes. You won’t go through life without them. I remember, early on, thinking, my goodness I can’t love God! I said it to Mother Superior, and she said ‘It’s part of the journey. He is there carrying you through.’ Then the joy comes back again; that deeper letting God in your life. I am not on my own.”

Surely, though, she must envy the freedom enjoyed by her brother and three sisters, especially the two who have children?
“I love children. I looked after twenty families before I came in, from the age of thirteen, from an hour to a weekend. I remember getting the phone call when my sister had her second baby. I was happy and excited for them, but I did feel I was missing out. I feel that on the kid’s birthdays, but I always ring my family and chat. I see them every two months, and I can hug the babies.

“I do feel it, but I am a spiritual mother. We are carrying Jesus in our hearts and giving birth to him every day. And you are a mother to the sisters in the community, looking out for them. That has given me a deeper sense of motherhood.”

Does she ever get lonely?
“Strangely, yes. There are sixteen in the community, but you can be going through something that you don’t want to share. And you can be lonely when something is going on in your family and you are not there sharing it with them. But my relationship with my family has deepened since I’ve been in here.”

Sister Monica spends much of her day in prayer, but there is work to do too. She works in the kitchen sometimes, and in the refectory. But her main job is making altar breads.
“I love to know that the bread you are putting in the boxes for the priest in going to become the body of Christ. I don’t know if I will ever grasp that fully. It’s just a wow!”

There’s study time; she’s about to embark on a degree in theology, and there’s some recreation time also. Sister Monica loves walking in the garden. The sisters sometimes watch the news; especially around election time, so that they can vote with knowledge.

Nuns no longer present the convent with a ‘dowry,’ but any money or possessions are shared with the community. The sisters are encouraged to share any birthday and Christmas presents, also.

As for food, they are allowed to ask for a ‘need’ but not for a ‘want.’
“There is always lots of healthy food like brown bread, yogurts and fruit. But if you want a particular chocolate bar you have to ask permission.”

The monastery has a website. It even has a Twitter account. Isn’t this strange when the order is an enclosed one?
“We are reaching out through the internet and that is wonderful. People ask for prayers. They tell us their lives and share their joy and sorrows. Mother Superior prints out all the emails. We read them and carry them in our prayers. But people still write letters and use the telephone. They still come and chat to us after mass. We don’t always hear if our prayers have been answered, but I have faith and I believe God is working for us.”

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© Sue Leonard 2013

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