Thanksgiving: the final Mass

The Poor Clare Sisters in Belfast have expressed their “deep sadness” at the closure of their Monastery in Cliftonville Road, Belfast. The final Mass was celebrated by Bishop Noel Trainor before a packed chapel on Saturday 11 August, the feast of St Clare.

Support: Aidan McGrath, OFM, with the Sisters

The Poor Clares said they have done “all they can” to retain the Monastery despite declining numbers of nuns. “Following much prayer and reflection, it is with deep sadness that the Sisters of the Poor Clare Monastery in Belfast, have decided to request closure of the Monastery,” said a spokesperson some weeks ago.

The decision of the Sisters came as a shock and a disappointment to many people. However, the Sisters have done all they can over the past two decades to maintain a meaningful presence in Belfast. It has become increasingly evident in the past few years that the number of Sisters in the Monastery do not permit them to live the Poor Clare way of life as envisaged in their Constitutions, nor do they allow them to meet the ever-increasing demands of the chapel, the Monastery parlours, and the retreat facilities.

There are now only five Sisters – three Filipino and two octogenarian Irish Sisters. The number of suitable volunteers from the Philippines has reduced over the years and UK Border Agency regulations in respect of non-EEC nationals makes the task all the more challenging.

After meeting to discuss the issue the Sisters voted unanimously in favour of requesting the Holy See to close the Monastery and relocate the Sisters. The Filipino Sisters will return to the monasteries from which they came and the Irish Sisters will be admitted to one of the other Poor Clare monasteries in Ireland.

The Sisters were clear: “It must be understood that the decision to request the closure of the Monastery comes from the Sisters of the Monastery and not from any outside authority. In respecting the Sisters’ decision they ask people to continue to accompany them in prayer and in their contemplative life,” added the spokesperson.

North Belfast Sinn Féin councillor Tierna Cunnngham said news of the closure will “break the hearts of many of the people of North Belfast. I met and spoke to the Sisters who are also heartbroken at this closure. I would urge local people to make it known to the Sisters how much they are loved and cherished by this community and comfort them at this time.”

Sadness and gratitude: a full chapel for the final Mass