Apart from carrying on our individual discernment journeys, part of the work of the initial Cornerstone community was to discern whether a new religious community was required to respond to certain needs in the Church and in the world of today.
We recognised that many young people were unsupported in their vocational journeys and often tried satisfying the desire for religious life by joining communities abroad. Camilla herself had tried this (see her story) and realised that this is not always the answer to the search for meaning. Ideas of a homegrown community continued to come to her mind. The first thoughts she had already jotted down on the 13th October of 1999:
‘At the same time any new community I would like to see centred on God, on the Word of God, on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. We need communities of mature men and women who live by faith, who are ‘experts in humanity’, who are passionately in love with God, with each other and with humanity. People strong in faith because they’ve known the struggle of integrating within themselves the different tensions which each person carries within. People strong in faith who know what compassion and mercy mean because they have encountered within themselves the intrinsic poverty of the human condition, and hence don’t put heavy burdens on the shoulders of those they meet. People strong in faith because they know that the call to change for the better, the call to conversion, is addressed first of all to themselves rather than to others. Then they’ll be able to effect change for the better around themselves just by BEING, not relying on what they do, knowing that only HE can bring about true and lasting change in a person’s heart. Men and Women who love the Church and are ready to give their lives for the Truth she teaches, despite all the weaknesses they experience in themselves or difficulties they face externally. People who, in faith, are willing to take risks to proclaim the Truth but with gentleness because they know that they, for first, often fall short of the ideals reached for. It is God who is in control and, thank heavens, He knows how to turn EVERYTHING into good for those who love Him and try to serve Him.’
At the time it seemed all so ridiculous to Camilla who was aware of how easily she could deceive herself. Despite the encouragement of a couple of people to set up something, she knew she had to wait. If it was of God, a similar desire would manifest itself in other young women and the means would come. And DID THEY COME?. If God wants something he gets things going despite our resistances!
During the second and final year in Cornerstone she managed to write down some of her ideas for the statutes for the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham. Three other young women from the discernment community and the Vocations Discernment Group also felt drawn to the project and helped to ‘fine-tune’ this document. “What we dream alone remains alone, what we dream together becomes reality”. On the advice of Westminster Diocese the statutes were reviewed by Sr Sharon Holland IHM in Rome in October 2003 and later approved by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. He granted us the decree of erection as a public association destined to become a religious institute in time for our foundation day, the Feast of the Epiphany, 6th January 2004.
The Founding Mass was celebrated on that day by Fr John Armitage and Fr Noel Wynn in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham with just the four founding members and Mr Timothy McDonald who has since become a great friend of the community. In September 2004 we started to run Abbotswick, a House of Prayer just off the M25 in the Essex countryside. Two important milestone were when Sr Camilla took her final vows on 24th March 2010 and Sr Gabriela took hers on 24th September 2012. Some photos of these unforgettable days can be seen in the photo gallery.
Since then others have taken their vows and we are about to open a permanent base at Walsingham. We have been invited by Bishop Alan Hopes (bishop of East Anglia) and Fr John Armitage (currently rector of the shrine) to run the new Retreat Center for the Shrine. It will be called the House of Our Lady’s Dowry and it will open its doors to guests later this year.
6th January 2004. Foundation Day, Pre-foundation Retreat and the First 6 Months of life in COLW