by Sr Anne Morris DHS
How to say in a few sentences, the essence of what I've loved and appreciated during the years I've known this house, St Beuno’s, and had the privilege of living in it?
Many of you will know the comic strip 'Peanuts'. Two of the characters are Lucy (a bit of a bossy boots), and Charlie Brown (who is permanently perplexed by life). In one episode Lucy says to Charlie: 'Life, Charlie Brown, is like a deckchair on board ship. Some people open their deckchairs and face the rear of the ship, so they can see where they've been. Other people face their chairs forward, so they can see where they are going. On the cruise ship of life, Charlie Brown, which way is your deckchair facing?' To which Charlie Brown says.' I can't get my deckchair open!'
I think this sums up a good deal of what we try to do in this house, in so many ways. People come on retreat, often to reflect on where they have been on their voyage of life and then turn their deckchairs towards the future to see where they are being taken. Perhaps I have the greatest affection for the Charlie Brown's, who struggle to get the deckchairs of life open at all. Sue, Beth and Tracey in the office are often the ones they first encounter. What patient encouragement and reassurance is given over the phone to nervous, would be retreatants. We owe a great deal to them for the number of enquirers who decide to come because of that first contact.
When retreatants arrive for the first time, they are often anxious, and as we well know it can show itself in anxiety about food or where they are to sleep. Those anxieties are usually allayed within the first twenty-four hours, having been met with delicious, nourishing food and clean, comfortable, beautifully prepared rooms. Gerard Manley Hopkins described the house, in a letter to his father as 'The staircases, galleries and bopeeps take a fortnight to learn.' Those that have to maintain the house would know even more of its nooks and crannies and the clanking pipes that Hopkins describes.
Hopkins also loved the gardens and surrounding landscape. 'The house stands on a steep hillside, it commands the long drawn valley of the Clwyd to the sea, a vast prospect, and opposite is Snowdon...coming and going with the weather. The garden is all heights and terraces, flights of steps up to heaven...' Those who have cut the lawns and weeded them know its length and breadth. It has been my privilege over these last years to have some part in caring for those heights, flights and terraces and to see the grounds invested in anew. My thanks go to all in the gardening, catering, maintenance and housekeeping side of the house, who do so much to make this house a lovely place to stay.
Of course we're not just here to provide a lovely place to stay. People come because they hope to encounter God in some way. Getting them over the doorway is just one aspect. Providing good spiritual direction is another, and it has been my privilege over the years to see the standard of direction on retreats and training courses continue to rise. I thank my colleagues in direction for all the dedication, energy, prayer and professionalism that they have brought to the work of accompanying people in their journey to God.
It's all best summed up in the opening line of the St Beuno’s vision statement, borrowed from Hopkins’s poetry: 'I knew a house where all were good to me.' It has been my experience also.
In a reading from Corinthians, St. Paul says, 'We are co-workers in God's service. By the grace of God given me, I laid a foundation...and someone else is building on it.' One hundred and seventy years ago it would have been impossible to imagine how that would be lived out today. I thank my brother Jesuits for the enormous privilege over these past 11 years of being a co-worker, and I thank all team members, past and present, for making it such a good place to work.
The walls of this house have been soaked in prayer and work down through the decades and all here today are adding to that heritage through the varied work they do. Prayer and hard work has become part of the bricks, mortar and plaster of the place. We might say it's stitched into the DNA of the building. In the words of a favourite hymn:
'On this house your blessing Lord, on this house your grace bestow. On this house your calling, Lord. May it come each day anew. Filling us with nobler yearnings, Lord, calling us to live in You. On this house your calling, Lord, may it come each day anew.'
So let us raise our glasses, or tea cups, to the work of this house, in all its aspects. May it and you long continue.