This is part 4 of Sister Benedict’s Vocation:
So there I was in temporary vows at the Benedictine monastery of A, feeling I was probably in the wrong place.
Cutting a longish story fairly short, I decided I would re-visit Monastery B, the House of Brede, with a view to transferring my Benedictine stability as a junior nun. To my surprise, a friend suggested I ought also to visit C as she thought it was the place for me! I was apprehensive. The impressions Benedictine monasteries had of each other were hazy, and I had gained the idea that C was full of old nuns and was to close down.
Anyway I thought my friend’s message might be from the Holy Spirit, so I asked my superior for leave to stay for 3 weeks each first at C and then at B.
My first visit to Colwich!
Entering St Mary’s Abbey Colwich as a guest from another monastery was quite a ceremony in those days. The lady who drove me rang the front door bell and handed me over to the Guest Mistress Dame Gertrude. She took me straight to the Enclosure Door, rang another bell, and when the door opened there were the Abbess and a couple of other nuns to greet me. I called the Abbess Lady Abbess (learnt that at Brede!) She took me through some dark passage and straight into the Choir. She must have been please when I gasped and blurted out: Oh! it’s a real Church!
Two points in favour of Colwich already: they really were enclosed, and they had a real church.
The Abbess took me to a cell in the new building, modern and bright. Also common sense: it really is better for quietness to have carpet, and a washbasin in the cell. I was opposite the Library: wide reading was encouraged and there was a variety of books spiritual and recreational. She then took me to her room for a chat, and soon found out I was physically and emotionally exhausted, so told me to Rest from Compline, and also said that I just had time before Vespers to Make my Prayer. I went off to the choir for half an hour, deeply grateful it was clear, whatever else happened, at Colwich We Made our Prayer.
Vespers was almost all in English, simple, tuneful, there were obviously some good voices, and they kept together. If one made a mistake, the Chantress corrected it, and the other went out in the middle to acknowledge her fault, all without fuss. It was prayerful. I sank into the life with a sense of relief.
The Abbess, elected that year, was Mother Abbess Edith Street. She was not young, but younger than the superior of A, and also the new Prioress at Colwich was younger than the second superior at A. There was a junior, younger in age than me, about to make her Solemn Profession. True, there were a lot of old nuns, one of them almost permanently in the Infirmary. But the atmosphere was hopeful. St Mary’s Abbey certainly was not closing down: some nuns from another house that was closing were due to join Colwich, so there would be about 20 nuns.
They had a Benedictine monk as resident chaplain. Guests sometimes stayed in the Outquarters, not a lot. The enclosure, meaning the grounds, was large enough and in parts quite wild. I was introduced by the archivist to the precious books and Father Augustine Baker manuscripts. It was all very promising.
At the end of the three weeks, I returned to A. Then I did visit the House of Brede again, inside the enclosure. It was quite an education. There I was able through quiet prayer to make the choice between A and C.
After a bit more delay, I moved to Colwich, but still with my stability at Monastery A. And there were quite a few difficult times ahead!
To be concluded, I hope, in part 5!