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The Tyburn Nuns of Riverstone: A beautiful life given to God

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The nuns at Tyburn Priory in Riverstone process towards the chapel to pray the Divine Office. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

It’s heaven on earth,” Mother Marie Pierre says when asked why she loves praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

“It’s like the closest you can be to God on earth.

“The idea of adoration is not just praying for yourself or asking for things, but it’s going out of yourself to love. In fact we’re all called to love. It’s like being close to the fountain of Love.”

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As a Tyburn nun, Eucharistic adoration is the focus of Mother Pierre’s entire life. She is Mother Prioress at Tyburn Priory in Riverstone, 48 km north-west of Sydney.

A novice prays alone before the Blessed Sacrament. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

There she lives on a large rural property with seven other nuns, a lame rabbit named Lizzie, four chickens and three alpacas, who help to keep the grass short.

The nuns are an eclectic group, varying in age, personality and ethnic background, with two from the Philippines, a Nigerian, a New Zealander, a German and several Aussies.

Mother Pierre entered the order at the age of 29 because she wanted to spend more time with the Eucharist. She tried another contemplative order but found it didn’t satisfy.

Prioress Mother Marie Pierre with the Priory’s three resident alpacas. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I realised I needed something closer to the Blessed Sacrament, more centred on the Eucharist,” the now 55 year-old said.

One day in her homeland of New Zealand, she came across a booklet on the Tyburn nuns at the back of a church. After reading it she knew the life it described was what she had been searching for.

“It was everything I’d ever longed for,” she said.

Mother Veronica works in the Priory kitchen preparing lunch for the nuns. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The booklet told the story of French woman, Mother Marie Adele Garnier, foundress of the Tyburn Nuns, also known as the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre.

Founded in Paris in 1898 by Mother Garnier, the order follows the Rule of St Benedict and aims to glorify the Trinity through daily Mass, the Divine Office, perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and daily prayer for the Pope, the Church and the whole human race.

As Benedictines, the Tyburn Nuns follow the Rule of St Benedict. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Today there are Tyburn monasteries in England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy, France and Australia.

The mother house is in London at Tyburn—the site where more than 100 Catholics were martyred during the English Reformation.

The current Mother General is Chinese-Australian, Mother Marella Aw.

Mother Christina waters the Priory garden. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Our life is very simple but it’s according to the Rule of St Benedict, which is work and prayer – a very balanced life, a family life,” Mother Pierre said.

The Priory at Riverstone also has a guest house for those who want to experience the peace and quiet of a Benedictine monastery.

Mother Pierre says the guest house is an apostolate, an “overflow” from the sisters’ life of prayer … “so people can come and share our life of worship and share the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.”

Prioress Mother Marie Pierre. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The sisters acquired the chickens and rabbit for the sake of 90 year-old Mother Cyril – former Prioress at Riverstone – who loves animals.

Mother Cyril grew up in Germany and escaped the Nazi regime during WWII.

She avoided signing a mandatory document at school swearing allegiance to Hitler by pretending she needed to go to the bathroom, then putting her head down and running for her life, eventually hiding under a bed in the hospital where her father worked.

Former Prioress at Riverstone, 90 year-old Mother Cyril. As a young girl in Germany Mother Cyril made a daring escape from the Nazis. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Although she can’t speak much anymore and is hard of hearing, Mother Cyril’s face glows with peace and joy.

Each nun spends at least an hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day, and two hours of night-time adoration during the week.

A typical day sees them rise at 4.30am to pray the first office of the day together – Nocturne – in the chapel. They return to the chapel six more times throughout the day to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours. Bedtime is usually after the last office of the day—Compline at 7.30pm.

Mother Christina rings the bell calling the nuns to prayer. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

In between prayer, adoration and meals, they engage in various forms of work in the laundry, kitchen, garden and general cleaning of the priory. There is also time for reading and recreation.

Talking is kept to a minimum in order to maintain inner peace and on-going dialogue with the Lord.

This is one aspect of the life that vivacious Mother Vianney — originally from Sydney — says she struggled with after entering in 1987 at age 53.

The nuns pray the Divine Office together. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I’ve got good tenure—I’ve only been 86 for two months,” she joked with a cheeky grin, when asked her age.

“I had always lived my own life and done my own thing … it took a long time to realise what obedience is. I came to appreciate obedience very much in the end,” she said.

“And silence, I’m not good at silence to this day. You can tell. Hopeless! They tried to tame me,” she laughed.

Mother Vianney. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Mother Vianney discerned a vocation to religious life four years after her husband passed away. Her three adult sons were happy for her to enter, she said, as they thought she would only stay in the monastery for a short while. Eventually, however, they accepted that she was happy there.

She’s says she “just knew” once she visited the Priory that it was where she wanted to be.
Mother Vianney’s main occupation is answering the multitude of correspondence the sisters receive.

“It’s quite a big job. Lots and lots of letters come in. Lots of prayer requests and people like to tell their troubles to someone and have somebody say, ‘I understand’,” she said.

One of the most popular residents at the Tyburn Priory is Lizzie, the rabbit. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I like the silence. I like the obedience. I didn’t always find it easy but nobody does … I like having a Rule and I like being able to pray when I want by going into my cell and just praying, person to person.”

Sister Mary Agnes, originally from Nigeria, says the “joy in the Lord” she has discovered as a Tyburn nun is simply “too much”.

“It’s so much I cannot express it. It’s too much … When I joined the monastery the kind of inner peace I have, I’ve never had before,” the 50-year-old said, beaming from ear to ear.

She loves the “continual prayer and day and night adoration,” of monastery life.

Mother Christina hangs out the washing. Daily life at the Priory is a combination of prayer and work. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Our Lord wants us to console him. He died because of my sin and the sins of the whole earth. I so love to pray, to console Our Lord,” she said.

“I love prayer so much and that is why I’m here.”

Sister Mary Agnes entered the order four years ago at age 47. She said getting up in the middle of the night for adoration is no problem with the help of God.

Sister Mary Agnes from Nigeria. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“If you ask for the grace of God, you’ll see that things are so easy for you … sometimes I say, maybe I’m weak today, but the moment I pray, ‘oh, Father, I’m weak but I want you to fill me up’, and my weakness disappears. I get extra strength. I say, ‘oh, you are wonderful, God’.”

Mother Veronica says even as a little girl growing up in the Philippines she used to be moved to tears when contemplating the suffering of Jesus during his Passion.

The door to the Prioress’ cell indicates to the other nuns where they can find her. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I used to cry and cry and my mother would get upset with me. My heart was filled, like Our Lady.”

She told her mother when she was just nine years old that she wanted to become a nun but her family told her she couldn’t as she wasn’t well educated.

After having a dream about Mother Marie Adele Garnier, in which the Mother Foundress was following her and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, she began to think she definitely had a calling.

Mother Veronica from the Philippines. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

She entered the Priory in Riverstone in 2011 aged 50.

“The Lord is guiding me, I can see that. He has showed me things that I cannot explain,” she said.

“When the Lord calls you, you have to answer … I realised it. If I don’t come here, where am I going to go?”

During her time in the Priory Mother Veronica says she has come to realise the importance of prayer.

Mother Marie Pierre in her cell. A typical cell contains a bed, desk and chair and a cross upon the wall. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“God is there to keep you straight away if you call on him,” she said.

“If you don’t pray and your mind is wandering, evil comes in straight away … It’s like when Peter walked on water. Peter has to look at Jesus all the time but when Peter looks at the water because he’s scared, then he sank.”

Mother Marie Pierre said life in the monastery is all about continually saying ‘yes’ to God even when it’s difficult.

The Blessed Sacrament is the centre of life for the Tyburn Nuns. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“It’s like a purifying of you that brings you into a relationship where it’s only He that matters and His kingdom,” she said.

“I would say it’s one of the greatest graces or gifts that you can be given, to be chosen by God. To have the opportunity to live a consecrated life centred around the Blessed Sacrament.

“It’s a beautiful life but it’s not easy of course, especially in the world today because people don’t understand silence.

“But actually if you can get over that hurdle, then it’s a new opening to hear God and grow closer. It’s a beautiful life, that’s all I can say about it.”

For more info about the Tyburn Nuns:

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