House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

30 October 2009

Good Craic...

     One of my personal highlights from the week that was, was the dinner which was held on Friday night at the home of Fr. Denis. The evening began at our home where our community, our guests, members of the parish, and the Most Rev. Denis Brennan (our local bishop) gathered for a house blessing. Bishop Denis began the brief service by asking God to bless the house and then Mrs. Calcutt gave a short reading. Bishop Denis also invoked the patronage of St. Brigid and blessed the house with holy water. One of the lines in the blessing which struck me the most was when the bishop asked God to bless "the family which occupies it [the house]." We always talk about the Notre Dame family, and the Folk Choir family, but here we are as the Teach Bhride family. We live, we eat, we pray, we argue, we laugh, and we love together, just as any family does. We are not a "traditional" family, but we are a family none the less and it was great to hear those words used by the bishop. The blessing was followed by the obligatory pictures outside with everyone who was in attendance.

     Following the blessing we all traveled down the road to Fr. Denis' house where we were joined by some other members of the parish, a few local priests, and representatives of the parish Folk group. Fr. Denis had gone to great lengths to ensure that the Americans and the Irish were mixed in together, even going so far as to make name plates and assign seats for the dinner. Carolyn and I were seated with Fr. Aodhan, one of the priests assigned to the downtown parishes and Fr. John-Paul, the director of catechetics for the diocese. Fr. John-Paul was the one who guided us on our trip up to Dublin to visit the ND kids. Dinner was an amazing event, with a salad, soup, three different options for the main course, tons of sides, and some great dessert to finish it off. Most of the food was also homemade by Fr. Denis and his staff chef Carolyn [not our Carolyn, their Carolyn]. The food was amazing and the wine flowed freely, usually poured by one priest or another who was up making the rounds with the bottles. The conversation was great as well, Fr. Aodhan is a chaplain for one of the secondary schools in Wexford and so we talked about his work there and how we might become involved in those places. Mid-way through the meal three more folks joined us, friends from Notre Dame who are in the London program this fall and decided to spend the last weekend of their fall break in Wexford. After quick reunions they settled in for their dinner, which they claimed was the best food they had eaten since arriving in the Isles last month.
     Dinner was followed by a few speeches, first from Fr. Denis, as the official welcome to us and to all of the Americans who were over visiting. He was followed by Bishop Denis, a man who every time he speaks I am enthralled by what he says. Requests have been made for hard copies of his homilies, which we hope to receive at some point this year. Then it was time for the Americans to be put on the spot. Mrs. Calcutt got up and gave a brief word of thanks on behalf of the corporation and everyone backing this project, touching on some of the difficulties in getting this off the ground but reveling in now seeing the great works coming out of it.  Madam House Director followed with a few words of thanks for all of the support we have received from both sides of the pond in the last few months. It was amazing to be sitting in a room with people who we have known for years and people we have just met, all of whom are dedicated to seeing this project work. We've received so much support from the people back in the States, but we've also received so much support from the pastoral staff and parishioners of this, our new home.
     With dinner and the speeches done, the three of us and the Folk group members had to run off to the parish for our weekly rehearsal, which was larger than normal due to the large liturgy that would happen the next night. Not only were we being commissioned by the Bishop, but the Folk group was celebrating 30 years of ministry in the parish, and we were dedicating two new stained glass windows which had been made for the church. The rehearsal was great, but back at Fr. Denis' the party had gone on without us. By the time we returned the party had moved into the sitting room where a "session" or sing-along was in full swing. There were guitars, a few whistles, a mandolin, even an accordion, as well as the combined voices of the Irish hosts and the American guests. We sat in that room for hours, going back and forth from genre to genre. There were plenty of American favorites from John Denver, Bob Dylan, and others. Fr. Denis whipped out a few of his classics, including the rebel songs which talk about the Wexford rebellion of 1798. We even had a rousing rendition of "How Much is that Doggy in the Window."
     By the end of the night we all were pretty tired and it was time to head off to bed. The session had capped off a great day for everyone. We introduced our American friends to the ways of the Irish, we had a lot of singing, and eating, and drinking. It was a night filled with good craic, the Wexford term for having a great time. These two groups of people whom we have come to love were finally joining together and experiencing each other as we experience them. For us, this week was when we officially stopped being visitors and started being people who live here and work here. We hosted people, we showed them around the town which we now call home, we took people to our favorite pub and to our favorite coffee houses. And in many ways that night of good craic in Fr. Denis' sitting room solidified the relationship between the Americans of Teach Bhride and the Irish of Teach Bhride. We all know each other now, everyone has talked face to face, we can have a better understanding of where everyone is coming from in this project. And I think because of that we have made this project all the stronger for the future. We are no longer a loose group of people who are trying to make something work, we are two unified groups on either side of the Atlantic who know that this project is worth the effort and will yield amazing fruit in the years ahead.

29 October 2009

Best Week Ever- Wexford Opera Festival

Alright, prepare yourself for a flurry of blogposts. Our community was just graced by a slew of visitors and special events this past week and we have lots to report. Affectionately referred to as “The Best Week Ever” (circa popular VH1 program from a few years back), this week was full of opportunities for fun, prayer, reminiscing, and celebration.

It was also conveniently the week of the Wexford Opera Festival, arguably the most exciting week in Wexford over the whole year. The festival is renowned throughout Europe and brings in some amazing talent to our little town. The town is noticeably more crowded as visitors come in to see one or all three of the operas performed over the eleven-day festival. The streets of the town are all lit up like Christmas, and you can just feel the excitement. One of the most wonderful things about working for the church in a small town is the incredible connections and opportunities we’re given. The “head of house,” Alfred Lacey, helped the three of us get tickets to the dress rehearsal for Ghosts of Versailles the day before our visitors arrived. And when our visitors did arrived we all went down to the quay to watch the spectacular fireworks shot out over the water to mark the opening of the festival. Then we were able to go see the opening night of the “double billed” opera later in the week with Steve and Michele warner, and my parents. We are very grateful to Paul Hennessey, the chairman of the festival, and his wife Angela for helping us get those tickets! We are consistently blessed by the generosity and graciousness of our Clonard parishioners.

The Opera was a great experience for us all. We all got dressed up and went to see some world-class talent. The “double bill” is two shorter operas performed in the same night, so we saw both Une Éducation Manquée and La Cambiale di Matrimonio. However, the fun definitely continued afterwards when we took our “American visitors” down to our favorite local pub, Simon’s. (yes, still in our formal-ware). We had a great night introducing our friends and family from the states to our newly made friends here in Wexford.

21 October 2009

Silliness and Spirituality

This past Monday I had the opportunity to work with two classes of third-year students at Kennedy Park primary school, leading two sessions focusing on music and singing as part of Arts Week. We as a community have been fortunate enough to work with two of Kennedy Park's fifth classes, teaching them new music for their Opening Mass for the school year, and working with one fifth class in planning a special, individual class liturgy, so I was excited to have the chance to work with some of the younger students. The fifth class teacher approached me about the Arts Week sessions last week, saying that her previous presenter had canceled, and is there any way I would be willing to spend two blocks of 45 minutes perhaps teaching a song or two to third-year students? I had to give it about 2 seconds of thought before I was willing to commit.

Since the intent of Arts Week was not to prepare any liturgical music but just to have fun and get young children interested in and excited about music, I wasn't quite sure what to teach them. However, the approach of Halloween provided a great answer. I decided to teach a ridiculous, fun Halloween song (complete with motions), and then, in order to provide the sessions with a little substance and spiritual depth, I would explain the liturgical roots of Halloween, and teach them a song appropriate for the feast of All Saints Day.

We began with warm-ups, as all good singers should, practicing our vocal scoops and sighs, lip buzzes, stretches, and other amusing forms of vocalizing. After that, I began teaching the classic Halloween ditty "Five Little Pumpkins." It was massively entertaining to teach the students words and motions to phrases like "There are witches in the air." (The motion for this is to look up at the sky, point, and move your finger across the air as though you're following a witch on a broomstick.)

Naturally, the kids had a blast learning this classic in the repertoire of Halloween songs, and they picked it up very quickly. After promising them that we would sing it again at the end of our time together, I began a new series of questions with: Does anyone know what we're really celebrating on Halloween? (Answer: "Devils and witches!" Not quite.) I explained the concept of celebrating important feasts with vigils, like Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve, and that Halloween is really the "Eve" of All Saints Day, when the Church remembers all the men, women, and even children who lived holy lives. I then asked: Can you name any saints? Hands shot up as children called out their favorites: Patrick, Brigid, Columba, Aidan, Santa Claus (the student forgot his real name), on and on. I introduced the next song, "Sing with All the Saints in Glory," and explained the meaning of the text phrase by phrase, clearing up slightly confused answers like: "The Resurrection is when Jesus rose from the dead on Christmas." So close... so endearing!

The students learned the familiar Ode to Joy tune almost instantly, and were even able to grasp the more formal text. Of course, by the end of each session, both classes were ready to sing "Five Little Pumpkins" again, but it was great to see their enthusiasm for the All Saints Day hymn as well, and was happy that I was able to combine the fun and silliness of Halloween with the beauty and joy of All Saints Day. Once again I found myself grateful for the opportunity to work with children. It has proven to be one of the most rewarding facets of our ministry here, and I pray that it may not only continue, but also grow in scope and depth as this year passes.

14 October 2009

O'Connell House Fellowship

     On Friday, the 9th of October the community was invited to Dublin by Fr. John-Paul Sheridan who is the director of catechetics for the Diocese of Ferns. He is also one of the chaplains for the Notre Dame study abroad program in Dublin based at O'Connell House on Merrion Square. The O'Connell House hosts fellowship nights once a month for students, alumni, and friends of Notre Dame who are based in Dublin. Officially these are "ACE Fellowship" nights, connected to the Alliance for Catholic Education and give educators and students a chance to gather and discuss topics surrounding Catholic education.
     Fr. John-Paul collected us on Friday afternoon and we proceeded up the old Gorey road, which he claims is quicker than the motorway. (Unless you get stuck behind slow moving trucks like we did!) To pass the time Fr. Sheridan introduced us to an NPR show that he listens to called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". It's a quiz show based on the news of the last week and I found it quite hilarious. It's now one of my regular podcast downloads. Highly recommended. On the way we stopped for a cup of coffee, but as it was after 5 on a Friday in Ireland, the shop was already closed. Undeterred by our lack of caffeine we continued on to Dublin, accompanied by the NPR podcast and then my introduction to Garrison Keillor and "The News from Lake Wobegon". Again, highly recommended for those of you who have not heard him.

     Upon arrival at O'Connell House we were greeted by the director Kevin Whelan (a native Wexfordian), program coordinator Joe Stranix (a fellow '09 grad), and a young couple Elaine and John who are involved with ND and Catholic education in Ireland. Seeing as we were early we took a little walk past St. Stephen's Green in search of the American Embassy, aka STARBUCKS!! We've had coffee and tea since we've arrived in Ireland, but we all marveled at being able to walk into a place and order exactly what we wanted just like we were back in LaFortune. We got it to go and walked back to the centre past Trinity College and arrived at the front door, one of the many Georgian doors in Dublin. Martha spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get  a good picture of the door, which in the end turned out to be one of the coolest pictures I've seen.
     Joe met us at the door and gave us a great tour of the house which includes ground floor offices and study space, a chapel, library, and tons of classroom space. Martha remembered her time as a study abroad student and how she was quite jealous of the Dublin students and their amazing facilities. The centre is run through the generous contributions of the Keough family (who also donated my dorm at ND) and Naughton family. The space is a great asset to the students of the Dublin program!
     The fellowship kicked off with a great Mass in the house, celebrated by Fr. Sheridan with music on the guitar by Elaine. We joined with some regulars, the staff of the house, and current students in celebrating the Mass. When the three of us talked about the Mass later we all agreed that for some reason this Mass felt like home. It may have been the music, the other American accents responding with us, or just the sense of being back with Notre Dame people, but for some reason we all felt very refreshed by the Mass at O'Connell House. Fr. Sheridan gave an excellent homily and there was a beautiful communion reflection provided by Elaine which served to cap the Mass off nicely. Following Mass the fellowship continued with a great meal and great conversation. I was able to forget for a moment that I was no longer a student and I sunk right back into the joking conversation and banter that flew around the table. I'm not sure how long we sat at the table, but the conversation and the food continued flowing until they began to put tables and chairs away. Our end of the table finished the night off with a series of pretty funny religious jokes, many of them having to do with the Jesuits. (Fr. John-Paul, a product of two Jesuit institutions, had some of the best Jesuit jokes)
     The ride home was just as great as the ride to Dublin. After some great conversation about the state of the Church and the state of American politics, we turned back to the iPod for the rest of the ride. There were some great classics like the Biebel "Ave Maria" which brought us back to Glee Club concerts, a haunting song which I recognized from my favorite show "The West Wing", and finally the short stories of Oscar Wilde as read by Stephen Fry. To accompany it all we were able to watch the nearly full moon off the Irish coast during the entire drive. I wouldn't say it was a spiritual experience, but it was a very relaxing and comforting drive. The entire trip lasted about eight hours, but it was eight hours of music, fun, laughter, old friends, new friends, good liturgy, and food. After two months in this country we are finally beginning to settle into it as home and this little touch of familiarity helped to remind us that wherever home is there is always the Notre Dame family. We look forward to welcoming more of that family in the next week as some guests drop in for a visit. Cookie and Mrs. Cookie arrive on Monday and that's just the start of things. I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about after next week. Hope all is well with everyone back in the States. Thanks for all of your prayers and support!