A warm welcome back to you all for this, our final term for 2023. I have just returned from a wonderful period of long service leave, spent in the highlands of Scotland, Ireland and the South of France. While I was in Ireland, I visited the spectacular valley of Glendalough in County Wicklow, home to the ruins of an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th Century by St Kevin.
Like many of the religious of his time, St Kevin retreated into the forest and established the settlement at Glendalough to escape the noise, turmoil and distractions of the wider world. There, in the peace of the valley and the beauty of nature, St Kevin found peace and connection with God. As I wandered through the ruins of the medieval buildings, I was struck by the profound peace that I experienced, and I had some sense of what drew St Kevin to settle there all that time ago.
A few days later, as I wandered through the halls of the National Gallery of Ireland, I found a remarkable portrait of an Irish Sister of Charity, notable human rights campaigner Sr Stanislaus Kennedy. Sr Stan, as she’s more commonly known, is the founder of Focus Ireland, a charity that supports and empowers homeless people and The Immigrant Council of Ireland, and has been instrumental in advocating for refugee rights.
It struck me that while St Kevin found peace by retreating from the world, Sr Stan and the Sisters of Charity, find peace by leaning in to the world, never deterred by the messiness, complexity and frailty of the human condition. Certainly, to retreat and to rest is very important, but it can’t be to the detriment of service, compassion and love.