One June morning in 2013, the community of Sainte Anne d’Auray, on a visit to us in Belgium, met our bishop Monsignor Harpigny on the square in Tournai. After a brief exchange :
“Why don’t you come to the feast of Saint Jospeh at Kermaria?”
It was from this that the idea took root in the heads of our sisters in charge but also, surprisingly, in the head of our bishop. It was a surprise when, with a large smile, he said to us one day in November 2013, “I’ve said yes … I’m going to Kermaria for the first of May!”.
We were all a bit flabbergasted at the idea of travelling seven hundred kilometres for just one day …. and we hardly know our bishop. We needed the time to meet him informally in community, which we did in February around the table with a good meal.
Little by little the project took shape and there we were en route for Kermaria. What an adventure! We had to reschedule our diaries, prepare the journey, organise the welcome and our stay with Sister Odette the Vice Provincial of Kermaria.
The evening of the 30th April, the community arrived first at the rendez-vous point and were on a war footing. Marie André and Marie Thérèse watched out for the arrival of Monsignor. Should they risk singing the “La Brabançonne” (the Belgian national anthem!)? Paula was worried : “I hope everything turns out O.K.! How will the bishop react? ” Anne too waited, a bit perplexed. By the time that we got to know that he had set foot in the Mother House, accompanied by his friendly driver, Monsignor had already met the welcoming committee. All throughout his guided visit of the property by Odette, he expressed his astonishment at the layout of the living spaces, the chapel, the gardens, the cemeteries …
It was also an occasion to meet the sisters, to engage in conversation and to show an interest in the functioning and animation of the house. After the visit it was high time to participate in vespers with the community and to meet up again at St Mathieu for a well earned supper. A meal shared with humour and simplicity brought our day to a close.
Thursday, the 1st May, Eucharist, lunch with the provincial Council, a procession which set off under a rain worthy of Brittany, solemn vespers ….
As Sr Anne Marie Monneraye said, “flawless”.
Our bishop entered perfectly into the liturgy which had been prepared with care by a team. His homilies were appreciated by everyone.
It was a deep joy for us as the community of Tournai, to celebrate the Eucharist at Kermaria with Mgr Harpigny, and a symbol of the close link that has always existed between the mission of the congregation and the life of the Church in the diocese. We have rowed together in the same boat for more than a hundred years so that the Humanity of Jesus should infuse more deeply a land which is losing its sense of meaning. During the afternoon all of the sisters who had worked in Belgium were invited to share afternoon tea with the Bishop, a unique occasion to take a family photo and to immortalise this “historic” occasion.
At the end of a day marked by emotion, we met up at the exhibition in memory of the action of the Daughters of Jesus in the First World War. All of the small “Belgian” group examined the assembled documents and objects with attention … but tiredness made itself felt. A dream made real would soon come to an end .
At breakfast the next morning we said our “good-byes” and our “thank-
you’s”. Each one set off again, his or her head full of images and memories, transformed by convivial meetings, the warmth of the sharing and the fraternity. For our community it was a unique event that is still being talked about today in the corridors of the bishop’s house in Tournai.
“Kermaria …. we’ll go back.”