By Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor
“Tell the young people in Trinidad and Tobago that we’re looking for vocations. Come and join us!”
These were the words said to me by Mother Rosaria, Abbess of the Benedictine Monastery in Coubaril, St Lucia. The eight nuns who resided at the Monastery were three local nuns from St Lucia, Sr Scholastica from Trinidad, Sr Emmanuella from Martinique, three nuns and also two postulants who were from Zambia where a second monastery was constructed, dedicated to prayer, contemplation, and work.
Every morning at 5.30 a.m. the nuns were already dressed and seated in the adjoining chapel, saying the morning prayers for the world. Mass started promptly at 7 a.m. with Sr Margaret Mary on the keyboards and Sr Emmanuella leading the singing, their melodious voices wafting in the air.
And after daily Mass, there was a constant flurry of activity until they retired at 9 p.m. These activities included preparations for the many guests who stayed at the monastery and for the weddings and luncheons that took place on a regular basis.
Everyone wanted to host a celebration there and no wonder – the ambiance, good food and pleasant countenances of the Benedictine nuns were all ingredients for memorable experiences.
I went in search of the sweet Lupa and Coil mangoes every morning of my stay, as the property was surrounded by fruit trees of all kinds, from which they prepared their meals.
But what was the faith and steadfastness that kept this group of nuns together for a cause that was beyond self and could only be described as a labour of love?
Answering the call
Sr Margaret Mary, a St Lucian and 27 years a nun, lived near the Carmelite Convent and admitted that she did not like to pray or go to church when she was younger. Her father was Anglican, and her mother was Catholic, but she remembers that the neighbours took her to church when they were going, and she often rebelled. She wanted to work in a bank as a teller.
One day, she visited the Benedictine Monastery and as she was walking up the steps with the group, she had a call from what she knows now as the Holy Spirit.
She remembers the words clearly as if it were yesterday: “One thing, my child, when you come here, OBEY. Listen my daughter, to the precepts of the Master.” Her advice is that even though there are many challenges in life, they do not last forever. The challenges are part of making you whole.
On the contrary, Mother Rosaria, the present Abbess, always wanted to be a nun. Someone advised her to visit the monastery and when she reached to the kitchen door, she remembered a dream that she had been having – she had been to that place before and had seen it in her dreams!
She was so shaken that she ran from one place to another only to be halted by a message – “Do not be afraid. Have courage. Go ahead.” She has been part of the Order for 34 years and is now the Mother Superior, having taken over from its founder, Mother Marianna Pinto, an Italian nun who died in 2019.
Mother Rosaria’s message to us is – If God has called you, why stop? Listen in contemplative silence to His voice.
Sr Assunta from Zambia, added to this by saying that we must all be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. She remembers that her parents always took her to church so that we must “start with the children”, she advises, “and help them to nurture their faith”.
Everyone spoke very highly of the previous abbess, Mother Marianna. At her funeral, there was a special musical tribute in the Chewa language composed specially for the occasion by the Benedictine Sisters from Zambia and sung by the Benedictine Sisters of St Lucia and Zambia, the two communities founded by Mother. It was called “Tsiku La Lero.”
In his message at her death, Pope Francis stated: “May Mother Marianna be received in the communion of the Saints. She will obtain from God the necessary assistance so that the two monasteries may be a place of light and love towards the poor….”
Cardinal Kelvin Felix who had assisted her in establishing the present monastery, mentioned the “distinguishing marks” by which the monastery at Coubaril (St Lucia) will continue to be remembered: as a place of peace and solitude, a place of meditation and prayer and a place of Christ-like hospitality and love.
These Sisters can be contacted at Benedictine Nuns, Mount of Prayer, Coubaril, PO Box 778, Castries, Saint Lucia.
As we continue the call to vocations, let us pray that God’s spirit will inspire young people to join religious life and the priesthood. As the nuns at Coubaril have all said: God knows you best. He calls you personally and every vocation is a call to Love. Listen to His voice, in the silence of your hearts.