Sr. Mary Ann Maxwell’s one-year sabbatical to renew her ministry has turned into a nine-year adventure in Dublin, Ireland. Photo courtesy of Carolanne Henry, All Hallows College

Nun’s quest for renewal lands her in Ireland

  • April 24, 2015

It is often said that a religious sister never truly retires, and Sr. Mary Ann Maxwell is living proof.

The Canadian member of the Sisters of Charity of Immaculate Conception spent her first 37 years as a nun working as both a teacher and principalin the Catholic school system, from which she had just graduated. 

“I was inspired by the teachers that I had, the manner in which they lived their lives (and) their daily prayers,” said Maxwell, a Saint John, N.B., native who began formation shortly after finishing Grade 12. “I was taught by the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. They just inspired me to say that is what I would like to do with my life ... and I think I just naturally entered the community I knew best.”

Seeking a change from a life in education, Maxwell retired, for the first time, in 1997 only to quickly transition into a treasurer role for her community.

“Then in 2006 I felt it was time for a little sabbatical,” said the 73-year-old. “I was getting sort of burnt out a little bit after working all my life.” 

Maxwell’s fire, however, did not remain dimmed for long as the Maritimer packed up her bags and headed across the pond to Ireland’s All Hallows College, a branch of Dublin City University founded by the Vincentians in 1892. There she took part in the one-year Renewal for Ministry program which seeks to revitalize the spirit and ministerial motivation of those growing sluggish. And save for twice-yearly visits back home, she’s not left.

“(The program’s) subtitle is Water Your Roots and that appealed to me because of my own roots in my own family and in my religious congregation” here in Ireland, she said. “That is why I came in the first place and I only came for one year supposedly, but that was nine years ago and I am still here.”

The Renewal of Ministry program is broken down into three individual components: a fall program from mid-September to mid-December, a winter/spring program from early January to Easter Sunday and a one-month program that this year began on April 20.

Following her sabbatical year, the school offered Maxwell a job assisting with the renewal program she had just completed.

“I wrote home to my religious superior at the end of my one-year sabbatical ... and I simply said to her that I feel at this time in my life that this is what I am called to do,” she said, adding that her superior had expressed concerns that Maxwell had become isolated and lonely. “So I did it and then the following year I was appointed director of the sabbatical program.”

Fast forward to the present, and Maxwell still resides in the land of shamrocks and springs and continues to serve as director of the sabbatical renewal program.

“I thought with the gifts (from God) that I had ... that I would be able to keep the program going,” she said. “I thought the program might only last a couple of years but here it is nine years later.”

She’s also served the school as co-ordinator of liturgical music since 2007.

But soon it will be time for Maxwell to try retirement for a third time.

“Unfortunately the college will be winding down” and shuttering its doors, she said. “But we’ve been granted another year for our Renewal for Ministry program and I think part of that is the fact that it is still growing. And thanks be to God that I still have the good health to be able to do it.”

Maxwell said enrolment figures have risen consistently each year by one or two participants. This past year alone a mixture of 77 laypeople and religious took part in the program.

And although Maxwell, who intends to return to Canada once the college closes, looks forward to spending more time relaxing with her family, friends and community, she’ll always look fondly on answering the call to facilitate the renewal of others.

“I don’t regret it at all. I love it here,” she said. “This is what I am called to do.”

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