“From the Acorn to the Oak”
“Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” The presence of a tall, sturdy oak tree in the convent grounds in Tullow is a testimony to 202 years of Brigidine history. The Sisters of St. Brigid were restored by Bishop Daniel Delany, in Tullow, Co. Carlow, on 1st February 1807. On that day, Eleanor Tallon, Eleanor Dawson, Catherine Doyle, Judith Whelan, Brigid Brien and Margaret Kinsella gathered in Tullow and became the first Sisters of St. Brigid. All had very little formal education but were trained as catechists by Daniel Delany.
Daniel Delany founded the Congregation in response to the urgent need for education for life and faith at the time when Ireland was emerging from the oppressive Penal Laws. The Brigidine Annals record that he restored the ancient Order of St. Brigid to the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin. He planted an oak sapling from Kildare in the grounds in Tullow to symbolise the historic link.
The Brigidine Sisters opened day and boarding schools throughout the diocese, going to Mountrath, Abbeyleix, Goresbridge, Paulstown and Ballyroan. The Brigidine tree kept expanding. They conducted schools in Australia and New Zealand by the end of the 19th century. They spread to new lands in the 20th century – to Wales, England, the United States and Papua New Guinea.
Following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s Brigidines, like other congregations, moved from large convents into smaller houses, living in housing estates alongside their neighbours. The renewal of religious life led Brigidines to hear anew the cry of the poor people in disadvantaged areas and in the developing world. Brigidines responded by establishing missions in Mexico and Africa and by working in partnership with other lay and religious groups in South America, Iceland and China.
Brigidines began to diversify their ministries in response to new needs around them. We minister in parishes, hospitals, prisons and as home-makers, counselors, spiritual directors – to name but a few areas of ministry. Brigidines continue to work in schools and in the management and trusteeship of schools. We work with those who are searching for a spirituality that is relevant for today’s world. Teach Bhride, the former novitiate in Tullow, is now a Residential Holistic Education Centre. Solas Bhride, in Kildare, caters for pilgrims from all over the world.
There has been a strong justice and peace thrust in the congregation for the past few decades. The development of the Brigidine Associates, Co-workers and Cairde Bhride in the Irish/UK Province has been significant. They promote the vision and mission of the congregation. We engage with issues such as the welfare of the planet and the plight of displaced persons. Brigidines sponsor and help in managing a Hospitality Centre for Asylum Seekers in Tallaght, and sponsor Homework Clubs for the Travelling community in the area. The trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation engages our attention and action. We have participated in setting up a “Safe House” in England for trafficked women. The Congregation works on these issues in partnership with sixteen other religious congregations at UN level.
When one looks at Daniel Delany’s legacy, there is much to proclaim and celebrate. We had a wonderful bicentennial celebration in Tullow in 2007. The theme chosen for the celebration was: “Heritage and Horizon”. Mountrath was the second Brigidine branch from the Tullow oak. We celebrated the Mountrath bicentenary on April 19th, 2009 when over a thousand past pupils and parishioners joined us for a wonderful re-enactment of the arrival of the Brigidines in Mountrath and for a very meaningful and uplifting liturgical celebration afterwards.
The oak sapling was planted in fertile ground. Though it shows signs of ageing, there is life in the old oak. It is still full of sap. It is still sprouting acorns and giving new life. It is likewise, with our congregation. Though some foundations, regrettably, have had to close, there is much life and hope in our congregation. It is still kindling flames of justice and peace.
It is still nurturing acorns that hold dreams of possibility. The horizon keeps beckoning. Brigidines and co-workers, with the vision of Daniel Delany and the spirit of Brigid of Kildare, continue to sow seeds that further the reign of God – a reign of love, compassion and justice for humanity and for the Earth.
Brigidine Sisters came to live in Kildare in August 1992.