Thursday, April 11, 2013

Goodbye to Building, Hello to life on the Pond

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog.  The building had been completed.  In time we became settled.  Almost everything is now in place.  I knew I wanted to continue a new blog but did not have the energy or inspiration.

Today I have put up the first post on that new blog about life here at Varroville.  It is called On Varro's Pond.  Here is the address:

Thank you to all those who showed interest in the blog and the building programme here.  If you would like to see how life develops with us look up On Varro's Pond.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thursday 22 November

It is been a very long time since my last post.  Its not that nothing of interest has been happening but rather too much.  Our community is quite small at this time and if one or two are away those at home have an additional load to carry.  In the big picture, though, we have many blessings, not least our new priory.

The new priory is a delight to live in.  Here below is a view down the corridor to the end of the building.  It gives a sense of the interior of the house. 
Priory Corridor
We had a group of third year teachers come on a retreat day which was organised by the Catholic Education Office of the Archdiocese of Sydney.  It was a wonderful group of young professional people. I was delighted that they were so attentive and interested in what I presented on St Teresa and our lives today.  They enjoyed the grounds during the breaks.
Teachers on retreat outside our priory
A quiet chat
A very pleasant surprise was a call from out of the blue from Noel Power, one of my classmates from my time as a student in Dublin.   He came out to Varroville on the first Tuesday in November.  I had not seen him for almost 40 years but picked him up at the train station and chatted while he helped me shop and unload.  Noel is now a psychoanalyst and an specialist in drug and alcohol addictions.  He was visiting his son who lives in Sydney.  Noel stayed long enough to enjoy the Melbourne Cup with us.  The longer we were together the more we remembered and the more we laughed, of course.  

As well we have been cheered and stimulated by the visit from Singapore of our Carmelite Fr Tom Curran.  Tom was a member of the community here at Varroville in the 1980's.  He still has many friends nearby and further afield.  Presently he is on retreat at Jamberoo Abbey.  He will return for a few days and also visit St Ives before heading back to Singapore via Perth.
Noel Power
I realised at some point that I had not updated the progress on the Prayer Room in the Retreat Centre.  Below is the beautiful Living Flame window by Cedar Prest.  Because the glass is three dimensional the window looks different from every angle.  It is a stunning image and creates a wonderful feeling in the room.
Living Flame window
The prayer room now has its tabernacle, two icons and today the chairs arrived.  I think it will be an inspiring and sacred place.  I will reserve the Blessed Sacrament in it tomorrow in time for the weekend retreat.
Tabernacle at the centre of the prayer room
The prayer room will eventually have eight icons of Carmelite saints.  First to arrive was St Teresa and then St John of the Cross 

Icon of St Teresa
Icon of St John of the Cross
Thinking of icons we had a wonderful retreat/workshop conducted by Anna Prifti, a master iconographer from Melbourne, for aspiring iconographers.  The results were astonishing.  Each student produced a beautiful icon to take home.  The craft of the iconographer is one that involves much prayer and attention.  The fruits speak for themselves.
Icon retreatants with their icons
Living in the new priory has some features I did not expect.  We are very close to nature.  Each window has a different view over the property.  One afternoon I heard a ruckus outside my room.  Looking out I saw a red fox on the hill opposite.  I then realised he was being dive-bombed by two crows.  When I saw he had something fairly large and black in his mouth I guessed what was happening.  He did not let go the young crow.  Then just the other day Fr Shane alerted me to a very large goanna slowly walking through one of the courtyard gardens and then past our dining room.

I took a photo of the goanna but have run out of my allotted space for images in this blog.  So that is one compelling reason why the blog in this present form has come as far as it can go.  It has told the story of the building of the priory.  I am grateful for the very positive comments I have received from very many people.  I do intend to begin a new blog next year.  In the meantime I will research how to best go about this.  However if you come back to this blog I will let you know what is happening.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

11 October

Once again, I have been reminded the blog is behind schedule.  Indeed, it is.  Life has been busy.  The biggest event took place quietly on Tuesday, 9 October.  Alex Coutts, the architect, was on site and presented us with a certificate of practical completion of the building.  So the saga of the building of Varroville Priory has reached a happy conclusion.  I suppose we should have had champagne but a quiet cup of tea with Alex while sitting on a bench was simple, peaceful and fine.

In the first week of October Sue Bryant and her sister Terry put in a tremendous amount of work to get the books of out boxes and onto the library shelves.  Some of us helped as well.  Monday, 1 October was a busy day with some lifting and a quick dash to the nuns for mass to celebrate the feast of St Therese with a good crowd of people who only just managed to fit into the nuns' chapel.  By the end of the week the books were sorted and placed.  A minor miracle!
Sue Bryant sorting books
Library shelves
If the books are now on the shelves we still needed to remove the boxes the books came in, as well as the duplicates.  This will be a long process but we are taking the duplicates from Box Hill and storing them in the excellent facilities in our garage.  Gerry Antilla has been quietly working away at this task.  Gerry did the work needed to get the shelving sorted and into place.  We are greatly indebted to friends and volunteers like Sue, Terry, Gerry and Meg to get ourselves set up.
Gerry removes and stores duplicate book
Tony Ward, our man in lovely Bundanoon, came down and gave a final polish to the tabernacle he crafted for our oratory.  It now sparkles and looks brilliant.
Oratory Tabernacle

 Some time in the midst of all this the 12 benches we had ordered arrived.  They are solid, comfortable and easy to get out of.
A Suitable Bench for a cuppa
There are a couple of benches in the grounds which look down towards the dams.  They make the grounds much more accessible.
A Bench with a view
Then one day recently the bell was taken away and when it came back it was placed in the stump. 
The bell in place
The bell is an old bell from All Saints, Liverpool.  It came to us in about 1970.  When it did it was (conditionally?) re-baptised, re-blessed, and re-named.  Fr Albert McKeogh did the blessing and chose the name:  Santa Maria.  The blessing, of course, was in Latin in those days.  It only needs to be added that the bell sounds wonderful.  It is probably better from a distance.  Close up, I found my ears ringing.  I think we need a long rope to get a respectful distance from it.
St Maria- the bell
There is a waratah in our cloister
One of the plants in our priory courtyard has flowered.  Previously it looked small and unprepossessing but now we are surprised and delighted that it is in fact our State Floral emblem- the waratah or telopea.  It is not such a common flower but beautiful.  While I was taking the above photo Gerry Antilla came by and offered to show me how the photo should be taken  Next thing he was down on the ground and twisting around so as to look up at the waratah.  His photo is below. 
Gerry's photo of the waratah
 A while back I asked if people thought the blog should continue.  Well there was a deafening silence and so I thought that was that.  But then I got a number of positive comments one way and another.  The problem I think was that the comments button was not working.  One suggestion from a friar stationed here 40 years ago was some pictures of the grounds.  So here are a couple.

There is a magnificent bougainvillea over the pathway leading to the chapel.  Here it is.
Purple Bougainvillea and white wild rose
The bougainvillea  looking to the chapel
Finally to close here is a photo of a room in the new retreat centre.
Retreat Centre Bedroom
And here is a typical view from a room

So you can see there has been a bit happening.  One thing I have not mentioned is that Alan Ibbett, from the Wollongong Diocese Catholic Education Office, was here today and the last few days connecting up our computers.  So, this is wonderful.  I am actually writing this in my room in the new priory.  Soon we will have our new phone system as well.  We won't know ourselves.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  Pope John XXIII gave a famous inaugural speech in which he decried the prophets of doom and initiated the council dedicated to pastoral dialogue not abstruse definitions and condemnations.  Invoking the Holy Spirit he opened a new era in the Church which has only just begun.  May that Spirit be in our hearts and move us to act with creative faith and love today, tomorrow and always.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

23 September

We are almost there.  The priory is all but complete.  To me it has been a long journey.  It will take us time to settle in and make the whole building work well for us.  As well we need to ensure that the refurbishment of the retreat centre is properly furnished so that it works really well and our ministry there can be relaunched.   Since the journey of building is almost over I wonder if I should keep up a version of this blog.  Any comments or suggestions?  Certainly our work on the property is not finished yet and you may be interested in life in the priory and what is happening in the retreat centre.

I am behind, once again, in posting.  This time I was tied up giving a retreat to the community of Poor Clare nuuns in Campbelltown.  It was an enjoyable experience for me to be with the sisters for the week.  I hope it was a beneficial experience for them.

I had a first yesterday while saying mass in Lurnea parish.  In 37 years of preaching I have never  had such a strong vocal response during a homily.  I mentioned the Anglican Diocese of Sydney's desire to change the wedding vows so that women would promise to submit to their husbands.  My! There was no doubt who was listening.  Let's just say the ladies were not convinced it would be a helpful change.  I enjoyed the interaction very much.

The photo below was taken some weeks ago from the hill behind the priory.  You can see the length of the building with the retreat centre in the background.
Priory in landscape setting
Here is another photo of the fountain in front of the priory.

Entry fountain
I took the photo below a couple of days ago in the early morning.  You can see the outline of an angelic or mystical figure surrounded by light.  The photo looks towards the last four bedrooms of the priory.

Mystical fgure captured
One sure sign the building was nearing completion was the removal of all the sheds.  Below is the view from the verandah outisde our dining room looking towards the fig tree.

From the dining room to the fig tree
Outside the dining room we have a planter box with a number of callistemon and a lemon tree.  There will also be some herbs planted here, including a rosemary bush.  There are planter boxes aoutside the recreation room, the offices and the south facing rooms.  These are planted with callistemon (bottle brush) which should attract more birds.

Lemon tree with callistemon
Here below we are looking from the garages at the end of the building towards the front.  It is a long building:  110 metres from the front door to the back door.

From the garage to the fig tree

Garage doors
The last courtyard garden has been planted.  There is a Japanese maple in the centre which looks fine.

Garden with Japanese maple
Here is view from our dining room looking over the porperty and showing St Antony's hermitage among the trees.

St Antony's hermitage as seen from our dining room
We have added a second table to our dining room and a coffe table near the lounge. 

Dining room
The Mongolian Pear in our courtyard near the library and oratory has blossomed.  It will grow to be a fairly large tree and will then help moderate the summer afternoon sun.

Mongolian Pear
 This is the garden looking towards the old novitiate.  There are three Mongolian pear trees here, one in blossom, one in leaf and one in bud.  A typically mixed Spring?

The old novitiate
Some of the plants on the bank between the priory and the chapel are now flowering.  To have Grevillia and Kangaroo Paws flowering is delightful.  They should attract the birds and bees.
Bank between chapel and priory

Saturday, September 8, 2012

8 September

I hve been told by more than one reader that it is about time I posted some more photos so they can see how things are going.  Apologies for my tardiness.  But it is nice to have people asking for more.  Well the building is porgressing and in fact coming close to its completion.  Much is happening and we are quite aware we live in a building site.  We have been distracted by all manner of little things like needing to keep the retreat centre humming.  Enough of excuses, here are some photos.
Lunch room is taken away
One of the signs of progress was that one day the workmen's lunch room was put on a truck and taken away.  It was also the place where we had our site meetings.  So now there is a gap through which we can see more of the property from our dining room. 

New Bell Stump
Another sign of the end of building was the arrival of our new bell tower.  You can see the old belltower in the distance of the photo above.  Over twenty years ago we had a memorable accident when during the ringing of the Angelus the bell fell from the top of the tower, bounced on the roof and hit the ground.  It has been there ever since.  So part of our brief was to get a new tower.  The Council would not allow a big tower so this is more of a stump than a tower.  The old tower is white while the new is galvanised steel and at present looks glitteringly silver.  It will mellow, no doubt.  We are interested to hear how the old bell sounds in his new location.

Asphelt Laying Machine
Recently we have had gales which have blow dust, leaves and branches all over the place.  On Friday we had this machine laying asphelt on the road around the back of the retreat centre up to the priory garage.  It was impressive to see the big trucks come up and slowly ease the asphelt into the machine while the road rollers whizzed back and forth compacting the asphelt into a hard and durable surface.  Next week the front drive will be repaired and resurfaced. 

The Road behind the Retreat Centre
The new road takes a much wider alignment away from the retreat centre to improve visibility and safety for vehicles coming both ways.  Another great leap forward has been that we are connected to the sewerage.  This means that our old septic system has now been decommissioned.  I have not taken any photos of this epoch making event as it was a bit messy and we had been told to vacate the premises. This was to let the plumbers do what they had to do.  Three of us, Paul, Darren and I, went for a walk to the Woolwash at the back of Campbelltown where the Georges River meets O'Hares Creek.  After this five of us had a pleasant buffet lunch at the Campbelltown RSL.
The road leading to the priory
The road leads to the retreat centre car park which is on the left.  The priory is straight ahead and the chapel is to the right.

Seating in front of the priory
One day I was surprised when a man arrived with the benches for the front of the priory.  In fact they are not quiet what we ordered.  But we have put them out front temporarily.  The outlook over the fountain and the dams is delightful.  I like sitting here. 

Looking towards the garage
The above photo shows the new road as it goes past the Fig tree.  To the left of the fig tree you can see the rooms in the last section of the new building.  These are offices, formation rooms, a store room, laundry, music room and bathroom.  After these is our garage.
The garage is for four cars

Steps leading to mezzanine storage in the garage

The garage has a high roofline within which is a large mezzanine storage space.  One thing a monastery always needs is storage space.

Corridor of the last section
The last section of the building contains four bedrooms on the left and various offices on the right.  There is presently a temporary division in the corridor which separates us from the new work.  When this is taken down we will be able to walk the length of the building.  It is 110 metre from the back door to the front door.  As there are no steps in the entire building many have noted it would be excellent for skate boarding or even geriatric wheel chair races.  Do images of the chariot race in 'Ben Hur' come to mind?

North side of the garage
The north side of the garage is covered and will be adjacent to our laundry.  It will be a clothes drying area.  Presently it is the temporary lunch room for the workers.
Final four bedrooms
The last four bedrooms have now taken shape.  When they are complete we will have twelve bedrooms in the completed priory.  The projected completion date is now only a fortnight away.  It has been quite a journey.  It will be wonderful to have the building as our own and to enjoy the peace and silence which is so necessary for our Carmelite life. 

School holidays are almost upon us.  This will be a great opportunity with the help of volunteers to unbox our library.  This has been possible because of the generous and skillful work of Gerry Antilla who has patiently assembled the books shelves.  Personally I wonder if all the books will fit but have been assured they will.  The library seemed so huge without the shelving but now it is almost cosy.  It will be a calm place to sit in a comfortable chair reading or just looking the cemetery and reflecting on the eternal verities.

So bit by bit the priory is coming together.  It is already a blessing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday, 11 August

The good news is I am back at home slowly recovering from my surgery.  The really lovely news is the amount of prayer and support I received.  The dull and ordinary part is that it is a slow recovery and I am having to take things easily.

On my return one morning I looked out my window as the sun rose and the light truly lifted my spirits.  It was so good to be home!
Early morning from my room
A little later in the day looking the other way I took another shot:
From my room towards the oratory
About a week ago Tony and Andrea Ward visited and we were able to place the beautiful tabernacle Tony had made from red cedar and the icons of Our Lady of Kazan and St John the Baptist, the forerunner.
The oratory
Icon of Our Lady
The icon of Our Lady of Kazan shows great tenderness.  It was previously in our chapel in Box Hill.  It was obviously venerated by the family who first owned it who placed the silver reza over her clothing and that of Jesus. Andrea did wonders cleaning the silver and the woodwork (the result of votive candles).  Tony has renovated the box frames of the icons and made them secure.  Blessings on these friends and those who have donated other items to our priory.  These include the lovely dining table and chairs and sideboard in our dining room and the lounge chairs that are there as well.

The tabernacle
Icon of St John the Baptist
The icon of St Joh the Baptist shows him as the father of monks, standing in the desert and proclaiming the coming of the Saviour.  It was previously in our chapel in Brisbane and then here in Varroville.  I apologise that the photos are not good.  I did not use my camera as I wanted this to be a quick catch up exercise.

Today we have a group of Secular Franciscans with us on retreat and celebrating the feast of St Clare.  However, it is blustery and cold.  I had a look at the building work on priory this afternoon and took these photos:
Looking towards the garage and store with various offices in the foreground
Behind the garage and storage space we will have a covered drying area for our washing.  It is adjacent tot he laundry. 
Drying space with rooms beyond
Since March we have also been refurbishing the retreat centre.  This is now nearing completion.  Here are some pictures of the new prayer room which is now taking shape.

Window ready to receive a stained glass window of the Living Flame
The prayer room will focus on the tabernacle which will hold the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharistic presence of Christ.   There will also be a set of Carmelite icons on the walls and a special window, the work of Adelaide artist Cedar Prest, of the Living Flame of St John of the Cross, which is from our chapel in Box Hill.
Tabernacle recess
We have placed the Spiritual canticle windows by Cedar Prest in the link corridor between the retreat accommodation and the conference room, dining room etc..  The windows are beautiful and repay a close examination in light of St John of the Cross's Poem- The Spiritual Canticle.  They add greatly to the beauty of the retreat centre.  The windows begin with the soul with heart inflamed beginning her search for her beloved whom she has lost

The first window from the Spiritual Canticle series
The soul searches through thickets and fields asking if anyone has seen the beloved and if he has left any trace.
Seond window

The Corridor
A vire of the corridor from a quiet space

 The final windows tells of encounter of the beloved and the lover and transformation of the lover into the beloved in the limitless joy, glory and joy of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Final window of the Spiritual Canticle
The work of placing the windows is not yet finished and the corridor will look very different with carpet.  The work continues but should be complete in a week or two.  The priory itself should be complete in mid-September.  The truth is we are still moving in and finding out how to live well in the priory.

Right now, I will do my best to live well by heading back to my room to continue my rest and recuperation!