What goes on inside a convent? Probably the only thing you can be sure about is that life is never dull!
Take the Augustinian Sisters at Boarbank Hall in Cumbria. They run a Nursing Home and Guest House in their beautiful grounds overlooking Morecambe Bay. These attract hundreds of visitors each year, who come for all sorts of reasons. Some are poorly, some nearing the end of life, others are visiting sick friends; others come for retreats, for meetings of charities, for INSET days and school visits, for study weeks, for family holidays, to walk in the Lakes, to relax, to find peace, to pray.
The full title of the Sisters is Augustinian Canonesses of the Mercy of Jesus. Their mission focuses on compassion and hospitality, and the Nursing Home and Guest House allow them to practise these.
The Nursing Home, open since 1955, mainly serves the local community, with long-term residents, and patients coming for respite care or to be looked after at the very end of their lives. In recent years, they have been building up a programme of residential events in the Guest House.
All of these offer opportunities to join the Sisters for daily Mass and sung office, and to enjoy the fellowship of other guests. A particular highlight in the winter months is Night Prayer around the open fire in the Hall. In warmer weather, guests can make the most of the gardens, which include a Lourdes Grotto. The spacious chapel and prize-winning oratory are available for anyone to use at any time.
The varied courses include a summer week for Catholics in their 20s to 40s, which mixes talks and discussion with prayer and social activities, making the most of our location near the Lake District. There are two weeks on Scripture and a popular Autumn Break on the theme of faith and the arts. New ventures include ‘Introducing St Augustine’ and a weekend on Basic Latin. Several courses aim to relate faith with the world of work, for example a weekend entitled ‘Called to Work’, and a weekend for lecturers in Higher Education. There are several events each year for healthcare workers, which bring together doctors, nurses, chaplains and other professionals and interested lay people.
Past speakers at events at Boarbank have included Fr Martin Ganeri OP, the Dominican Provincial, Baroness Onora O’Neill, the eminent wildlife artist Fiona Clucas, Sr Gemma Simmonds SJ, Professor David Jones of the Anscombe Centre, Professor Karen Kilby, a theologian from the University of Durham and Professor John Brooke of Oxford University.
Those lined up for this year’s courses include Kathryn Mannix, retired Palliative Care Consultant and author of the current bestseller With the End in Mind, Dr Carmen Mangion, an expert on the history of women’s religious life from Birkbeck College in London and Fr Luiz Ruscillo, Director of Education in the Diocese of Lancaster.
For more information about Boarbank and what goes on there, see www.boarbankhall.org.uk.