The nun's story

As a young girl growing up in St. Ruth's Park, in the 1990s, one of Louise O'Rourke's main hobbies was taking part in church activities which involved folk music, as well as doing voluntary work with young and elderly people in Athlone. Louise can't pinpoint the exact time when she decided to become a nun, but she knew that she had always been intrigued by the lives of sisters and priests, and it felt natural for her to want to continue being part of the religious life, when she became an adult. "In Athlone, nuns and priests have always stood out, they were great workers in the schools that I went to, and they gave so much of themselves in that work," said Sr Louise O'Rourke. She got her local education with St Paul's Infant School, St Peter's School and St Joseph's College, Summerhill, so she had spent her formative years with the Mercy sisters, and saw this work at close hand. "I saw them there as teachers, guidance counsellors, librarians and principals and I saw what they were doing didn't finish at 3pm, but it went on and on, where they were helping families, choirs, and in community centres," said Louise. "When I got a bit older my main contact with religious sisters was through the St Peter and Paul's Church Folk Group." It was just by chance that Louise encountered the Divine Master sisters on Castle Street, Athlone. She was just 12 years old, collecting money for a charity raffle, when she walked into the Liturgical Centre shop, and couldn't believe when she saw two nuns behind the counter. "I didn't know this wasn't an ordinary shop, I was shocked to see two nuns there, and I agreed to join the Folk Group so they would buy a raffle ticket from me," said Louise laughing. "They were two natives of Athlone as well, Sr Anne Breen and Sr Muriel Fetherston." The Disciples of the Divine Master came to Ballykeeran in the 1960s to open a convent with young sisters from all over the world. The sisters made church vestments and developed a name for such, and had church customers from far and wide. Following this, the Liturgical Centre on Castle Street, Athlone was opened on 8th December, 1969. In 1981, the nuns bought a pub which adjoined their building, and built their Chapel of Adoration on the site. The story at the time made front page news in newspapers, and the headline 'Nuns Buy Pub' was even featured on Gay Byrne's radio show. The Folk Group was set up in 1990, in St Peter's and Paul's Church by the Divine Master sisters, and included some young musicians and singers from local schools. Louise became a singer with the Folk Group, and she came involved in working in the parish, and there she became more aware of the Church in her life. For Louise that was a positive experience and one that she relished during her teenage years in Athlone. "I was young, but I was aware that the Folk Group was modelled on the Church, because both involved a group of people who worked together. Then it was with another group of young people in Athlone that we began to help out in St Vincent's Hospital," said Louise. "Most of us were in school together in Summerhill, and we'd go to the hospital on Sunday mornings to play and sing for Mass and bring patients down to the chapel, and the nurses had a lot of work to do, so we'd bring them back to the rooms and talk with them." Louise also got involved in Youth 2000 in the mid 1990s, which was a Catholic group of people encouraging young people to go to Church. The Mass became an important part of her teenage life, and after she did her Junior Certificate, her friendship with the Divine Master sisters developed further when she started visiting their convent in Stillorgan, Dublin, for weekend retreats. "I was a bit under age, because women visiting had to be between 18 to 30, but the sisters knew me so it wasn't a problem and I was delighted to go there for a weekend of prayer and reflection," said Louise. On other weekends, Louise did some waitressing in the Abbey Hotel, Roscommon, and sometimes worked as a classroom assistant at St Peter's School during the summer. For summer work experience, she worked in Athlone library and in St Mary's Youth Ministry Centre with Fr Patsy McDermott. It seems that the activities of her teenage years, and spending time with the sisters of the Divine Master, led Louise to want to become a nun and she has spent the past thirteen years working in that direction. She was encouraged by the superior of the convent in Ireland to finish her secondary school education, and following her Leaving Cert, Louise spent a short time studying in the Milltown Institute. "I deferred my college life for a year because it was holding me back from experiencing convent life and the challenge of community life, and it worked for me, because I did all those things, and then went back to college to study theology and philosophy," said Louise. Midway during her studies in Ireland, Louise went to Rome to spend further time with the Divine Master sisters for the time of novitiate and then First Profession spending over four years the first time, each day strengthening her commitment. Returning to Ireland in 2005, she finished her studies and received her qualifications in 2008. She also spent time in Lublin, Poland where she worked in a clergy diocesan home working with priests and looking after those who were elderly, sick or experiencing difficult times in their lives. At one point she spent time nursing a 104-year-old priest who was dying. "That was a wonderful privilege for me to witness his faith and his belief that he was preparing for Heaven," said Louise. Louise made her first Profession of vows in Rome in 2004, and she will make her Final, or as she prefers to call it, her Perpetual Profession, next Sunday afternoon, June 19, at St Peter's and Paul's Church at 3pm. "What attracted me originally was the deep contemplative life, as well as our ministry which, compared to some other orders may not bring us out as much, the people come here for the Chapel or the Liturgical Centre," she said. Louise comes from a close family, and sadly she lost her father, Ray, suddenly at a very young age in July 2006. "I don't think you ever get over something like that, you just get on with it, and if you do try to get over it and blot it out, you are denying your own humanity," she said. Louise's mother Joan still lives in Athlone, as does her sisters, Marie, Andrea, Aime, and her brother Robert. If she hadn't decided to become a nun, Louise believes she would probably have become a teacher. "I always had a strong interest in teaching and really believe in the value of education. It's important to encourage children," she said. She has spent the past few years in Rome working in their convents there, which included administrating and updating the international Congregation website; She is in tune with technology almost as much as she is with God, and does much of her computer work in silence, which is part of the ethos of convent life. "I spend a little time listening to the Rosary on my mp3 player or on the computer while I am working, and I listen in various languages, which helps keep my linguistic study up," said Louise. "We are all on a constant journey, and none of us have arrived, so my Perpetual Profession on Sunday is a big part of that journey for me." Sr. Louise O'Rourke's Perpetual Profession will take place in Saint's Peter and Paul Church on Sunday, June 19 at 3pm, and all are welcome.