The average 'summer' in Orkney tends to be rather short, perhaps three or four months at best. This contrasts with Devon where we lived previously, where we could expect four to five months of 'summer' weather. When you consider that Stronsay is some 800 miles further north, perhaps this difference is not so surprising. This year has been one of the best summers since our arrival six years ago. From May onwards the weather has been generally sunny, initially rather cool but warming-up considerably in June, and lasting well into August with long, calm spells of warm, dry weather. As ‘parishioners’ of Our Lady’s chapel, Stronsay, served by the F.SS.R priests and brothers from Golgotha monastery, Papa Stronsay, it has been quite an eventful few months, for like it or not, and I must emphasise that we do like it, we become involved in one way or another, with various activities and events of the monastery. This summer, Bishop Peter Moran, Bishop of Aberdeen, stayed for a second time at Golgotha monastery where he met the five F.SS.R seminarians home on summer sabbatical from the F.SS.P seminary in Nebraska, USA. More recently Mgr McDonald and Fr Livingstone, from Buchie, Scotland, also stayed at the monastery for two or three days. This included the feast-day of the ‘Assumption of Our Lady’ on 15th August, when we had a sung traditional High Mass in Our Lady’s chapel, Stronsay, attended by the F.SS.R community and by Mgr McDonald and Fr.Livingstone. In the evening the monks had their annual bonfire celebrations on Papa Stronsay to which the people of Stronsay were invited. Something like fifty people attended, including the monks, which necessitated conveyance on the large boat ‘St Alphonsus’ to accommodate the numbers. The weather was cool and showery, but the huge bonfire, generous buffet, and warm hospitality more than compensated – definitely an evening to be remembered! During the summer we have been privileged to take part in a public procession of the Blessed Sacrament led by Fr’s Michael and Anthony F.SS.R, and the brothers, starting from Our Lady’s chapel and finishing at the old lifeboat station, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. This may not seem far, but on that particular day the weather turned nasty, and it was a constant battle against the elements, particularly for Fr Michael who was carrying the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament therein, and for the brothers carrying the associated canopy, which continually threatened to take-off in the strong wind. The same group held another ‘devotional’ walk earlier in the summer, in honour of Our Lady and equipped with a large ‘Marian’ banner. The walk started at the southern end of Stronsay and finished at the old lifeboat station, a distance of about five miles. The weather was clement, in fact it was too clement for it must have been one of the hottest days this summer! I feel that many blessings were obtained and many pounds (in weight) were lost, and I am bound to confess that I could not have done it! There have been various visitors to Stronsay, including Fr Michael’s parents, whom it was a great pleasure to meet. Most visitors stay at St Cormac’s, the monastic guest-house on Stronsay, with very comfortable accommodation and self-catering arrangements, and about 8 minutes walk from Our Lady’s chapel. We have daily Mass in the chapel, always the traditional Latin Mass, as is the case at Golgotha monastery. Both Bishop Moran and Mgr McDonald celebrated Mass in this rite during their stay. We regularly meet the brothers on Stronsay, either at Mass or on their travels, or when they are working on the ‘Catholic’ or other of their many tasks. It is always very rewarding to meet and talk with the seminarians during their holiday, and please God, two of them look forward to their ordination to the priesthood in a year or so. One of the seminarians met with an unfortunate accident a week or two ago, when whilst working with one of the two horses kept on Papa Stronsay, he slipped and fell to the ground, the horse stepped back and trod on his ankle breaking it in two places. He was airlifted by helicopter (air-ambulance) to Kirkwall where he received treatment at the Balfour hospital, and his leg was set in plaster. He was allowed home after only two days, and this week the plaster was removed. I think the process was expedited as brother is due to return to seminary next week. Anyway he seems cheerful – as always I have to say, and all seems to be on the mend. For the monks, continually travelling between Papa Stronsay and Stronsay, must sometimes surely be, in common parlance, a ‘pain in the neck’. Certainly they would never admit this, but particularly when the weather is unsettled, with strong winds and fast currents, the crossing can be quite challenging - (admittedly I say this as a mere land-lubber!). Undoubtedly they have the special protection of Our Blessed Lady, the Saints, and their Guardian Angel, but they also have great fortitude and trust in God. Quite recently the engine died on one of the smaller boats, it was about quarter mile from the Stronsay quay, and the current was carrying it away towards some nearby rocks. The anchor would not hold the boat, so the four or five monks on board plus a civilian worker, had a few anxious and, no doubt, prayerful minutes before managing to re-start the engine and happily reach dry land! Such incidents are probably commonplace and no doubt taken in their stride by the monks, God bless them. We have recently had, new (to us) altar- rails fitted in Our Lady’s chapel. Apparently these came from a convent or similar establishment in Belgium or Holland, and comprise large dark, solid oak panels, carved with different devotional symbols i.e, Lamb of God, Divine Pelican, Wheat and Grapes, etc, etc. joined side-by-side and surmounted by a dark oak Communion ‘rail’, with gates of similar design joining the Epistle and Gospel side altar- rails. I think it probably dates to late 19th early 20th century, and it certainly is very beautiful. We have so much to thank God for, and indeed to thank Fr Michael and the F.SS.R community for. I have only touched on a few things that come to mind, and I have no doubt that there are countless other events and incidents that are not included here. Most of the events mentioned have been discussed in various posts of the ‘Transalpine Redemptorists’ for which a link can be found in my sidebar. These include many excellent photographs.
‘The Sayings of the Fathers’
‘A certain brother while he was in the community was restless and frequently moved to wrath. And he said within himself, “I shall go and live in some place in solitude: and when I have no one to speak to or to hear, I shall be at peace and this passion of anger will be stilled.” So he went forth and lived by himself in a cave. One day he filled a jug for himself with water and set it on the ground, but it happened that it suddenly overturned. He filled it a second time, and again it overturned: and he filled it a third time and set it down, and it overturned again. And in a rage he caught up the jug and broke it. Then when he had come to himself, he thought how he had been tricked by the spirit of anger and said, “Behold, here am I alone, and nevertheless he hath conquered me. I shall return to the community, for in all places there is need for struggle and for patience and above all for the help of God.” And he arose and returned to his place.’
‘The Desert Fathers’ by Helen Waddell’
Published by Constable & Co.London. 1936
'Thoughts from St Alphonsus for every day in the Year' by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R
'God wills us to be saved, but for our greater good, He wills us to be saved as conquerers. We have to live in continual warfare; we must fight and conquer. "The powers of hell are mighty," says St Bernard, "but prayer is stronger than all the devils." (August 22nd)
'Our Lady of Walsingham, convert our country. Guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI'