The contemplative life in Rosary Monastery


Supplements - 50th Anniversary of T&T Independence
Saturday, 01 September 2012 21:21
Interview with Sr Ann Bradshaw
Sr Ann Bradshaw
Sr Ann Bradshaw
Rosary Monastery
Rosary Monastery
Sr Ann Bradshaw, Dominican contemplative nun and present Prioress of Holy Rosary Monastery, St Ann’s entered Holy Rosary Monastery on May 5, 1962, at a pivotal moment in history, about four months before Trinidad and Tobago gained its Independence from Great Britain on August 31, 1962 and about five months before Vatican Council II began on October 11, 1962. In this jubilee year of her entrance, she shares with us the readers of Catholic News some of the significant experiences of the past 50 years in the history of our nation and local Church and in addition what Rosary Monastery contributes to our local Catholic Culture and Identity. It is helpful to remember where we have come from as a people so that armed with some historical context we can engage more fully in the practice of the faith in our secular society. Sr Ann in this interview with Renessa Tang Pack* shares with us the fruits of her contemplation in keeping with the charism of her Dominican vocation.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your memories of politics in 1962 when you entered Rosary Monastery and your own involvement in same?
My father was very patriotic and had the whole family up-to-date on what was going on in the Labour Movement, politics and the move to Independence. At one point, I thought about becoming a sociologist, politician or some medical worker. Some persons were also trying to persuade me to enter the political scene. I remember the first visit that Dr Eric Williams made to Point Fortin. My father took us to the meeting at Frisco Junction and Dr Williams started his talk saying something to the effect, “People of Point Fortin, never forget what Uriah Buzz Butler has done for you”. From that time, Point Fortin was PNM except for the year when NAR won the elections.
Q. Despite your initial ideas of what career to pursue, what prompted you to enter contemplative life? How do you feel now after 50 years of living your vocation and how do you see your particular vocation as contributing to the development of our Church and nation?
I thought that entering the contemplative life would be a good way of serving my country and fulfilling all the aspirations of my life through a life of total commitment to God and prayer. I could effectively minister to people everywhere and all the time.
Also, as a recent convert to Catholicism, my mother had a strong influence on my siblings and I in terms of passing on her faith. I was 16 when I converted and used to attend daily Mass with my mother and pray the daily Rosary. We were supported by a strong faith community and my assistant parish priest recognised the signs of a vocation in me and guided me into making a visit to Holy Rosary Monastery in Advent 1961. I was 19 at the time and was gaining newly found independence as a young adult away from my parents’ home. I had worked a few months and this made it easier for me to part from my family when the time to enter the monastery came. I remember my entrance to the cloister clearly, my novice mistress jokingly told me that, “This year Trinidad is becoming independent but you are not”. After six months postulancy I received the habit on entrance to the novitiate on November 9, 1962, the date of the canonisation of the first black saint St Martin de Porres. That was significant to me at a time when there was a lot of struggle with the working class in Trinidad and talk of race was just beginning to raise its head. I made profession on the same date of the following year 1963. Next year, 2013 I will celebrate the jubilee of my profession.
Contemplative nuns do not separate themselves to hide away from the world, but to enter more fully into the pains and struggles of their peoples. In the case of Trinidad, we have had many struggles, as a multicultural nation with a history of colonialism, slavery, indentureship, struggles for Independence and racial equality and in addition an attempted military coup in 1990. As contemplative nuns, we have been there in prayer for the people of Trinidad and Tobago since our establishment in 1874. In some cases we have provided counselling and interceded in prayer at the request of politicians, priests, lay communities and lay persons of all walks of life.
Q. Can you tell us more about one significant event in our nation’s history as experienced by your community within the past 50 years?
The Black Power Movement in the 1970’s was especially memorable. Though we were within the walls of our cloister, through the persons who visited our monastery we were able to get a full picture of the events on the outside. The Black Power Movement paved the way for equality in employment in our banks and companies and an appreciation for black and national identity and culture. More black women participated in beauty contests at both at local and international level and our country has the achievement of having the first black woman to win Miss Universe, Janelle Penny Commissiong. The Catholic Church was also touched by the movement, it found that it had to adapt itself to the changing cultural context, in terms of incorporating a more Caribbean feel to Church music and art.
Q. What can you tell us about one or two significant happenings in our local Church as experienced by your community within the past 50 years?
Prior to 1962, Rosary Monastery was a Venezuelan community in exile. In that year of Independence Archbishop Finbar Ryan said it was time that we became a local community and forbade us newcomers to speak Spanish since the monastery was at that time a Spanish-speaking community. After Vatican II the Mass and the office were said in the vernacular instead of Latin and our community prayers and spiritual reading were now in English rather than Spanish or Latin. After Vatican Council II, the Church entered into a time of new life. We had folk Masses, steel pan was introduced in church, vestments were designed with a Caribbean touch so there were oil rigs, coconut trees and fishing nets on the stoles and banners. It was a time of hope and excitement. It was good to be Catholic at that time.
Q. What interesting historical facts can you tell us about the monastery and its contribution to a Catholic Culture and Identity?
The history of our monastery is most interesting. It was founded with much determination and struggle by Venezuelan “nuns on the run” who had to respond in a dynamic way to political changes in their country. Our first nuns whose community was established since 1817 in Venezuela fled here in 1874, after the confiscation of their monastery by the anti- clerical government of General Guzman Blanco. They found a welcome haven here with the assistance of the then exiled bishop of Caracas Msgr Guevara and the then Archbishop of Port of Spain, Msgr Gonin and his successors and Venezuelan and Trinidadian benefactors. With much sacrifice they built the present monastery in St Ann’s (constructed in 1930). Rosary Monastery continues to provide spiritual support for our local community and acts at times as meeting point for the members of our Dominican Order. Moreover we believe it contributes to the cultural heritage of Trinidad and Tobago, as it is the only female monastery in our country (being one of two existing monasteries in Trinidad – the other being Mount St Benedict for men) and the only female Dominican monastery in the English-speaking Caribbean. We warmly welcome vocations to ensure the continuance of this dynamic heritage. For us revitalising Catholic culture is recapturing the charism of the Dominican contemplative nuns and contributing to the excitement and joy of being Catholic.
*Renessa Tang Pack, a parishioner of our recently instituted pro-cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, San Fernando was an attorney-at-law with the Trinidad and Tobago Government for almost six years. After a year with the Judiciary as a Judicial Research Assistant she went on to practise civil law in the Ministry of the Attorney General, Chief State Solicitor's Department. She was among the first (2011) graduating class of the Certificate in Social Justice with the University of Dayton/CREDI and recently volunteered in the social justice/human rights field in Mexico with Dominican Volunteers International 2011-2012.
While pursuing her career in law she participated in various prayer groups – Cluny Eucharistic Community, Living Water Community, Singles for Christ, the Dominican Sisters and Nuns – and gradually discerned a vocation to religious life. She will be entering Rosary Monastery as a postulant on October 7, 2012, Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.


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