The Present Community
The present community consists of twelve Augustinian sisters, two Benedictines and three Associate Augustinians, who share in the community’s prayer and service of hospitality. There is also a resident chaplain. The spiritual life of the Augustinian Canonesses is structured on the Gospels and the Rule of St Augustine: ‘Before all else, live in harmony, being of one heart and one mind on the way to God, sharing everything in common.’ Our constitutions enable us to put this into practice, summing up the characteristics of our life as Canonesses as: liturgical and personal prayer; sharing all things in common; and the service of the sick and needy through works of mercy and hospitality. This life is lived in the stability of a monastery, which, implanted in a particular church, ‘aspires to be a centre of vibrant love for the building up of the Body of Christ’.
Others who share in the life
All our caring and hospitality is centred around the liturgical life of the community, and it is our great joy to share the Eucharist and the Hours of Divine Office not only with our residents but also with friends of all denominations. The number of priests from our own and other dioceses who stay with us enhance this aspect of our life. In recent years many overseas students, young men and women from Hungary, Slovakia, Spain, France, Poland, Germany, and Japan, have come to spend time here to learn English and to gain work experience, which has created an expanding network of international friendships. Meanwhile, we strive to develop our service of hospitality in such a way as to develop our ecumenical relationships. Boarbank plays an active role in ‘Churches Together in Cumbria’, a combined Christian movement.
Canonical life is based on the experiences of the early church: ideals of community, service to others, praise and worship. It is a way of life with roots deep in the history of the Church, yet prepared to meet the challenge of the present moment. At a time when other Christians seeking to live the Christian life to the full turned to the ascetic isolation of the Egyptian desert, St Augustine found his inspiration in the common life of the early Christians (Acts 2.42-47). As a priest and then a bishop, he gathered around him a community to witness to the Gospel. Augustine recognised that men and women would be attracted to Christ when they saw his love revealed in their relationships in their life together. Rejecting isolation, Augustine imphasises the value of a life of love and service together, actively involved in struggling with the problems of the Church in his day: the misuse of wealth, violence, divisions among unbelievers, unbelief. Following Augustine, men and women have come together to try and live out these ideals of forming community, of sharing possessions, talents and time, of witness to the Gospel and of service of Christ’s missions. In particular from the twelfth century, reformers who longed to make Christ more apparent in the Church, such as St Norbert, have founded new orders and congregations to live out the radical demands of the Gospel and to meet the needs of their own day. To live the canonical life is to share in this experience of forming the Church: to share griefs, joys, hopes and challenges. Empowered by this vision, men and women serve through many different means: parish work, teaching, nursing, hospitality and centres of silence. Yet each form of service is rooted in personal prayer and in shared praise, and each leads back to these: ‘The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ (Acts 4.32).
History of the Canonesses
The Augustinian Canonesses of the Mercy of Jesus have their roots in a group who, more than seven hundred years ago, began serving the needy and distressed in the expanding French fishing port of Dieppe. In the Hotel-Dieu, which was equivalent to an almshouse in England, they worked alongside the Hermits of St Augustine, following the same rule as they did. They cared for the victims of scurvy, plague, leprosy and fevers of all sorts, which were prevalent in the overcrowded town. The sisters were also known in Dieppe itself, visiting and caring for the destitute living in their miserable hovels, or even lodging in caves hollowed into the cliff face. It was within these same cliffs that the sisters from the Dieppe community worked in the underground hospital, La Bimarine, during the Second World War, where thousands of French and Allied soldiers were treated. In the nineteenth century, houses were opened in South Africa, and in 1902, the first community opened in England, when the community of Guincamp in Brittany came to Liverpool, seeking refuge from the anticlerical laws existing in France at the time.
History of the Community at Boarbank Hall
In 1921 the Archbishop of Liverpool was requested by the Catholic Friendly Society to find religious who would undertake to found a convalescent home for working men and women in the north of England. He turned to the Augustinian Canonesses in Liverpool, and eight sisters, four of whom had come from France in 1902, came to open a new community at Boarbank Hall. The convent was solemnly blessed on 21st September, and the first convalescent patients arrived on the Feast of St Michael in that same month.
The work prospered and the community grew in numbers, soon requiring further buildings. In the local area, where Catholics were few and far between, the sisters soon became involved with the local Catholic church, catechising children and instructing converts. The community also opened a guest house, where old and young, families and individuals, have since found rest and relaxation, as well as an oasis for spiritual renewal. This was a haven for many during the war.In 1949 the work of hospitality was extended to include the care of sick and terminally ill people from the surrounding district, and this led to the opening of a Registered Nursing Home in 1955. The care of people of whom most were memebers of other Christian denominations led rapidly to the breaking down of prejudice and the gradual blossoming of ecumenical activity, which has increased over the years. It is through the generosity and support of all our friends that we have been able to build a Physiotherapy Room, make major alterations to the Chapel and Nursing Home, and add a unique Oratory for private prayer.