Belfast Telegraph Features Irish School of Ecumenics’ Geraldine Smyth

with geraldineThe news that BBC journalist Martina Purdy has chosen to enter religious life, joining a convent in West Belfast, has generated significant discussion in the local media over the last week.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph ran a feature story titled ‘The sister stories: What will ex-BBC journalist Martina Purdy’s new life in a religious community be like?’ The story featured profiles of Dr Geraldine Smyth, a Dominican who retired from full-time teaching and researching at the Irish School of Ecumenics (Trinity College Dublin) at the end of September, and Sister Rosaleen Murray of  the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

You can read the full story here.

I have worked with Geraldine at the Irish School of Ecumenics for the past nine years, but it was interesting to get more specific insights into what her day is like, lived out not just in ISE but also in the context of her religious community. The article contains a timeline of what her typical day is like.

I also appreciated Geraldine’s comments on ‘our failure as Church’ and the role of religious women in working for renewal:

The hardest times are linked with what seemed to me our failure as a Church to really bring the vision of Vatican II into the mainstream life of the Church as the Pilgrim People of God, failing to risk pushing the boundaries of convinced institutional reform and of deep renewal of faith and ecumenical commitment. I’d love if we were more truly a thinking church, ready to listen more to how living the faith has changed for people as they think more about what their faith really means to them, about the kind of belonging that matters and about how to be more open in engaging with those beyond our own narrow ground.

Routines deaden us; closed systems corrupt our spirit and cut us off from life and from being a living, participating, searching, loving church. I truly long for that, and my lowest times are when I lose that in myself – routine, laziness, writing-off others, maintaining the system at all costs and turning our backs on the deeper wellsprings of our Christian tradition in favour of a 19th Century fossilised church.

… Religious women have worked hard at renewal and have let go of many of the securities of institutional life, have tried to be the Church within the world, opening up to wider forms of education, pastoral and health care. Communities are smaller, the amount of liturgical prayer has lessened (which I find a loss). I believe that we need to keep thinking and reflecting on how to be a quiet, constant flame of prayer and contemplation, and of living/preaching the good news of the Gospel on the street, in the workplace, engaging with and in the midst of the world.”

Photo: Geraldine Smyth with Claire Mitchell and me at the launch of our book, Evangelical Journeys: Choice and Change in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture, in 2011.

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