Closure of Wimbledon Retreat House/Chapel

SMRIn August 2007 the decision to close the Wimbledon Retreat House was announced to our friends, retreatants and benefactors. During the following months we received many expressions of sadness, regret, appreciation and deep gratitude, enabling us to realise again the far-reaching influence of the work that had taken place here over 56 years. People recalled graces received, conversion experiences, growth in wholeness and many moments of quiet intimacy spent in the Chapel or garden. The last group to stay in the Retreat House left on December 16, and we prepared for an official Closing Ceremony on December 29.

As our Chapel has a seating capacity for approximately 50 persons only we had to confine our invitations to neighbours who came regularly for Mass or Adoration, for local benefactors and friends. Bishop Tripp was the main celebrant for the Mass, assisted by Monsignor Stark and our Parish priest, Fr. Gerry Mitchell SJ.

Before the Mass began Sr. Maureen extended a warm welcome to all. She set the scene for the celebration by recalling part of the process leading to the decision to close the house. While admitting that it was a sad occasion she stressed that it was above all a moment of great Thanksgiving for a very fruitful apostolate carried out during more than fifty years. The community had not reached this decision alone; our sisters from the wider region had all participated and our leadership team in Rome had followed us at every step. Sr. Maureen then read excerpts from Sr. Christine Barrière’s Letter giving permission for the closure and also a message from our Archbishop, Kevin McDonald.

The sanctuary of the Chapel was decorated simply with some Christmas Poinsettias and a beautiful bouquet of yellow and purple flowers sent by our sisters in USA for the occasion. The Blessed Sacrament had already been removed and the tabernacle door was open. The rich voices of the men folk added to the solemnity of the occasion. The readings and prayers were of the Feast, St. Thomas à Becket, one of the patrons of our diocese.

In his homily Bishop Tripp emphasised that this was a Harvest Thanksgiving celebration, not a funeral! He spoke of the immense good work achieved over many years, of the unknown graces and consolations received by those who came to seek meaning in their lives, of the hours of silent prayer offered for the Church and the world. He used the analogy of the seed dying in order to bring forth more fruit, and invited us to garner the seeds, take them in our hearts and prayer and continue our apostolate in our new home. We are to look towards the future and to a continuation of our mission. This is not an ending, but a new beginning.

At the end of Mass we had a touching ceremony, symbolising the event that was taking place. Before the final blessing the Bishop said:

The things we have used in this Mass will not be used again in this Chapel, but they will be used in the small Chapel in the sisters’ new home. So let us take them to the lounge where two sisters will receive them in preparation for their transport to the new Chapel. Sr. Eliziabeth, sacristan, will remove and fold the Altar Cloth.

He handed the Candles, Mass Books, and Cruets to community members who led the procession to the lounge, during which we sang “Now thank we all, our God”. Behind the large table in the lounge Srs. Margaret Mooney and Margaret Gaffney received the Altar Cloth and Mass items, and packed them in a suitcase. The Sacred Vessels were also carried there by the priests.

The Bishop prayed that our new home would be a place of prayer; a blessing on the parish and the Church throughout the world; that it would be like the house of Martha and Mary; that we would be protected there and that in the spirit of Blessed Emilie we would continue to manifest God’s tenderness for people.
Then he invited the whole group to say together the prayer in honour of Blessed Emilie.

A solemn blessing sent us on our way, to the dining room, to continue the Harvest Thanksgiving celebration.

Now in the early days of 2008 we are preparing to move to Stanton Road and are happy to be remaining in the parish of the Sacred Heart. The big clearance is under way. One can imagine the extent of this work, given the fact that we have items here since SMR arrived in London in 1862! As we move into the New Year and in a new direction we pray :

* Looking back may we be filled with gratitude;
* Looking forward may we be filled with hope;
* Looking upward may we be conscious of God’s strength;
* Looking inward may we be filled with God’s deep peace.