Tuesday, June 03, 2014

An Irish Hermitess

Several people have sent me links to this RTE video about a Irish hermitess. As with all hermits I not am sure whether she is mad or prophetic. In many ways she reflects the true tradition of Celtic spirituality: prayer and penance but also that rather solitary idiosyncratic Irishness which tends to extremes but is still deeply rooted in the memory of the past.
A comment on the video says:
This documentary was produced in 2003. It tells the story of a hermit nun, Sr Irene, who, with the local bishop's blessing, built a small hermitage for women on the West coast of Ireland between 1992-95. Around 1995 she was given special graces. With spiritual guidance from a local traditional Catholic priest and in view the crisis in the modern Church, she returned to the Holy traditional Mass and teachings prior to Vatican II. Always remaining faithful to her vows, she nevertheless found it increasingly impossible to have easy access to the traditional Sacraments. With so few priests offering the Latin Rite Liturgy in Ireland, it was rarely celebrated in her private oratory. With no regular Mass, like minded candidates were not encouraged to join her. In 2003 she therefore made the difficult decision place the the Hermitage on the property market. It was sold in 2012 and Sr. Irene moved to Athlone in the heart of Ireland within walking distance to the Tridentine Mass where she continues her life of prayer and sacrifice in her new "Holy Family Hermitage". To this day she remains faithful to the unchanging Magisterial of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Does anyone know what has become of her? There is a website, it appears she is still alone, as she has moved to Athlone, I presume she is affiliated to the SSPX.
I must admit I find her fascinating, and challenging.


Pelerin said...

A fascinating and very moving film. And she is so young- I thought she would be an elderly nun! How sad she has to sell her hermitage.

In 2008 I was privileged to go to Confession and attend Masses in the Old Rite celebrated by a Priest who is now living (with permission) as a hermit. He has built his hermitage with chapel from scratch with his own hands the progress of which he once documented on a blog.

The Priest has now dedicated his life to praying for other Priests living and dead in complete solitude.

One Christmas Day a few years back for various reasons I had to spend alone. However any loneliness I was feeling was overcome when I was able to have an email 'conversation' with the hermit even though he was thousands of miles away. His kind words were most welcome and turned what could have been a very lonely day into one that was particularly memorable for me.

I feel that present day hermits are just as necessary for the Church as they were centuries ago even if people in general cannot see the point of them dedicating their lives to prayer and contemplation.

Lynda said...

I contacted Sr Gibson last year. She is living in Athlone as the commenter said, and attends the SSPX Masses. God protect her.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I tracked her down. She was eventually forced to sell the hermitage land and spent a few years looking after her ailing mother until the latter's death. Now she is living out her hermit vocation in a suburban home she bought. She paints icons for a living and continues to pray for the restoration of the Faith to Holy Mother Church.

David O'Neill said...

What a moving video! How most of us would love to be able to live up to Sister's ideals.
Having recently (& reluctantly) attended Mass at Worth Abbey before flying out from Gatwick, I can see that our monastic institutions need to look at what sister has said. This Benedictine monastery has a church in the round which gives no sense of the sacred; there was no 'celebrant' for the Mass, instead we had a 'presider'; in a male monastic community also running a boys' school we had a female thurifer with luxuriant, long hair who spent a great deal of time tossing & preening which caused great distraction.

Ginge White said...

Father, you presume she is affiliated to the SSPX because she has moved to Athlone. She said, "I could not find the answers in the post-concilior religion". This suggests that she is indeed one of their flock.

J said...

Reminded me that old movie, Catholics, aka The Conflict (1973), with Martin Sheen playing a young ultramodernist priest.

Sadie Vacantist said...

It's not clear that Celtic spirituality is about living alone but more about community. The Irish are a gregarious lot.

The SSPX isolation has to end. If F1 can claim 50% of marriages today are invalid then where does that leave V2? The whole thing needs to be annulled and we can go back to being Catholic again.

Thomas said...

Much of what she says is true and she comes across as impressive as well as challenging. But some of what she says and even more of the comments here further confirm concerns I have about the schismatic mentality of the SSPX. There is talk of "the new religion" of "Conciliar Catholics", restoring the true Faith to the Church. I know she may speak a little loosely and from the pain of bad experience in local parishes but I cannot go along with talk of "traditional sacraments"; there are only THE sacraments, the same now as always. And she does seem to question whether the Missa Normativa is really the Sacrifice of Christ, certainly suggesting it is not pure and holy. There seems to be a presumption that no one who goes to Mass i ordinary parishes and accepts Vatican II believes in prayer and penance. That is simply not true. I can understand that people are scandalised by so much they may have experienced in some parts of the Church, but the Church has not failed, she has not lost the Faith. By all means call us back to the way of the cross and traditional devotions (I know many "conciliar Catholics" who are devoted to the rosary and live remarkable spiritual lives too), but please stop defining yourselves against the rest your fellow Catholics as if the Church itself had become false and heretical so you have cut yourself off yourself off it mentally and socially even if not quite formally at the moment.

Dolorosa said...

This nun, by her seeking the truth and looking for answers, has the Catholic Faith. She rejects the modernism warned about by St Pius X. Rome is in apostasy as so rightly said by the late Archbishop Lefebvre. As to prophecy it will get worse before it gets better. I attend only the Latin Tridentine Mass which is an hour away and will not attend the Novus Ordo, New Mass which is not far from my home. I have seen many strange things happen in the Novus Ordo I used to attend. One being the Sunday a deacon got up and gave us a sermon on why we should accept women priests. I wasn't sure if I should leave that church and attend mass with the SSPX until that deacon gave that sermon. The reason being is I told my mother I would have to leave if I ever heard a sermon about women priests and shortly after that is when the deacon gave his sermon. I was in shock and my mother remembered what I said and we never went back. I believe God was telling me to leave. Deo Gratias!

Lepanto said...

She says, of penance, 'They say that we don't need to do these things in our day'. Reminds me of a young English priest at Ars saying, of St. John Vianney,'He lived in this hovel and ate rotten potatoes - but there would be no point in ME doing the same. What would my parishioners gain from that? Nothing.' A priest with absolutely no idea of the need for penance.

Long-Skirts said...

Oh, wow, oh, wow!!

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes I share your caution, it is the other end of the ACP, yet I think that a deep love of the Church and yet a mistrust, even rebellion at times is part of Irish Catholicism.

biskindbio said...

In response to David - Worth Abbey is a co-educational school but the altar server he complains about was almost certainly from the parish (not from the school). The school pupils do not attend Mass every week - I suspect many are not Roman Catholic. I have always found the silence at Worth abbey to be very prayerful but I agree that the absence of a visible tabernacle is disconcerting, particularly as the tabernacle (in an altar behind and to the left) is really quite beautiful.

Marcus Josephus said...

My vote is "prophetic". Her lack or anger and rangor rings true. Thank you for this.

Ann Frost said...

@ Hilary Jane Margaret White, you say the Irish Hermitess "continues to pray for the restoration of the Faith to Holy Mother Church". Holy Mother Church has not and cannot lose the Faith but members of Holy Mother Church can and some have; hence, the Faith does not need to be restored to the Church but to those baptised who have lost it.

@ Sadie Vacantist, you say the "whole thing (I assume you mean Vatican II) needs to be annulled and we can go back to being Catholic again". The Catholic Church under the headship of Christ's vicar on earth, presently Pope Francis, is the Body of Christ whether pre or post Vatican II. The problem is that Vatican II has been wielded as a weapon against the Church. Unfaithful or misguided Catholics have attacked the Church by misrepresenting Vatican II and misinterpreting its documents, changing perceptions of what the Church is and what it teaches even though what it is and what it teaches has not changed at all, and cannot no matter how much the world wishes otherwise.

@ Thomas, you say "the Church has not failed, she has not lost the Faith". You are right. I wish everyone could see that.

Terry Nelson said...

@Ann Frost - you are correct. The Church has not failed - she has not lost the Faith.

Society of St. Bede said...

@Terry & Ann

We have a 97% lapsation rate from Catholic Schools in England and Wales, if that is not failure I would like to know what is?

It all depends on your definition of Catholic...

Fr Ronan Kilgannon said...

I met Sister Irene back in the time she happily attended Mass in the Ordinary Form. I offered Mass in her chapel on 2nd November about 12 years ago. She even invited me to be chaplain at the hermitage, but I was not free to do so at the time. If I remember rightly she had been a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Montmartre at Marble Arch in London. I sensed at the time she was without good direction, and wondered what might become of her. A friend stayed with Sister sometime later as a possible candidate, and found she had become a little odd, in short difficult to live with. I looked in on her website occasionally and noted how she had become discouraged with the certain aspects of Church life and gradually found solace in the Extraordinary Form of Mass and life and teaching as it was prior to the last Ecumenical Council.
I am sure there is a place for a hermit-prophet in the varied garden of God. However, if Sister Irene rejected the teachings of the Council and the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and continued to judge others harshly, I would be concerned about spiritual pride. For hermits it is safer to remain anonymous do penance and pray. I speak as a Consecrated hermit of many years.

viterbo said...

Since she has an email address I asked her how things are going:

Sr. Irene wrote: "Having no hierarchal or clerical support as a canonically professed hermit is perhaps the aspect of solitude I never dreamed or imagined I would have to endure. It has and continues to be a real test of Faith...May I take this opportunity to ask you to ask Fr. Blake and others to offer prayers for my dying brother at this time. His name is Frank Gibson, age 54. He is in the ICU in a South Dublin Hospital. As he was a non practicing Catholic all his life, I ask much prayers that God will show him mercy for the sake of His Son's bitter Passion and the prayers of the faithful...P.S.
If you happen to be talking to Fr. Blake, please be so kind as to ask him to honour us with a visit and offer Holy Mass in our tiny Oratory if by chance he is visiting Ireland this year. Only one priest has visited the house since I moved here in April '13.The Most Blessed Sacrament needs to be renewed. I have asked Fr. Paul Kramer in Cork but he gave no reply, and the English Superior of the SSPX for Ireland will not allow the local resident priests to support me."


Fr Ray Blake said...

My email to her pinged back.

sarto2010 said...

Fascinating? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Put quite simply, she "hits the nail on the head".

Pax Christi said...

2Sad to say, having no hierarchal or clerical spiritual support as a canonically professed hermit seems be the experience of other hermits and consecrated virgins also. I found this article which seems to sum up what Sister Irene told me of her spiritual isolation in the Catholic Church as a Consecrated Hermit. http://www.liturgicalicons.com/secret-garden-hermitage/

Lynka said...

I too met Sister Irene. I was discerning religious life in 1983 when she was a young novice
I liked her and we talked a fair bit. Sadly things have not worked out as she hoped
I think she is very holy but would find it difficult in the modern way of living in community. I never became a nun
I made some terrible decisions and am alone and not even a practising catholic. I might write to Sister and we all should pray

mother, oar said...

i too am a hermit without any spiritual leadership. i also have done the gambit of being Latin Rite, then Novus Ordo, and back to Latin Rite. Last, approved then rejected without ever having had a word spoken to me by His Eminence. i am an Augustinian Recollect hermitess.

i have sent in my constitution to the Archbishop for an order of Saint Augustine, to no avail, i did not receive an answer. The F.S.S.P. priest told me after asking for my life story,and telling me not to leave, the he is not my priest. Do not misunderstand me he does hear my confession, and gives me the host at mass.

But if this is the way Our Lord desires it, then i will continue on as Sister Irene has even though she is in the 'spot light' of sorrow.

It seems to me that many people 'seem' to know all about ones life, yet they never ask one orally about it, but talk on as though they 'knew' something about another person.

yours, mother henrie,in the intercession of the Sorrowful Mother.

Marcus Josephus said...

Dear Mother Irene,

I was very moved by your post. In deed, the marginalization and isolation you experience is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. The testimony of the original posting of "an Irish Hermitess" and yourself is living testimony of the true monastic struggle. A monk, male or female, is by its very definition, "one that fights alone". Your struggle is difficult because it is a true monastic struggle. Your hardship, united to our Lord's own marginalization and isolation is a fruitful offering of prayer for the Church. Please, for the sake of all, fight on!

Lynka said...

Hello Father Blake

Just to say that I have been following Sister Irene Gibson's story with interest. I have reached a stage in life where I have lost my parents, and my mother recently. It has really devastated me and I have sought much solace in religious reading and also in following those whom I feel are great examples of holiness. Sr Irene is one. I met her when I was discerning a religious vocation years ago. I could see then that she was different, and had a very
powerful calling to something other than the usual type of community life. She was very inspiring though to me, and even though I did not enter, I never forgot her. I am at a very difficult junction in life, and am seeking thoughts and reflections such as hers in order to bring some consolation and guidance as to what to do next.

I hope that she finds peace as she is very sincere in what she says, although it is sadly not easy for the Church to accommodate.

Thanks for reading.