A little history
Like any family, we have a family tree!
St Clare began in Assisi in 1212. Your little sisters at Ty Mam Duw were founded in 1928 from Notting Hill. They in turn were founded in 1857 by Poor Clare Colettines from Bruges, Belgium A Poor Clare community was in existence there during the life of Saint Clare, founded by Blessed Ermentrude to whom St Clare wrote one of her letters, (possibly two). Bruges was re-founded in 1457 from Ghent. Ghent was founded in 1420 by Holy Mother Colette from Poligny which she had founded in 1415.
In 1928, the Abbess of Notting Hill was Mother Felix Clare Vaughan, the niece of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. Her cousin, Bishop Francis Vaughan asked her to send sisters to pray in his Welsh diocese. She sent Mother Cherubina Clare de Morla, Novice Mistress in London, and six novitiate sisters. After living two years in a council house in Flint, they moved to an old house in Hawarden, Aston Bank which they rebuilt in a haphazard and piecemeal way, as funds became available. The present community inherited the monastery in 1982 at the invitation of Archbishop Ward. The church was rebuilt in 1986 with the Portiuncula shrine Chapel of our Lady, and bits get added on as we need more space.....
We are happy for people to come and share from the public parts of the monastery in our life of prayer. Our guest accommodation is humble, a little haphazard and very Franciscan! We have a dining room and other facilities for groups of up to 40 who like to come and pray for the day. We also have accomodation for private prayer retreats and small groups.
Innocents at home...
We did not embark on a career of hospitality after earnest discussion and discernment; it just happened. It has to be said that we were not prepared for it, and it took us unawares. In 1984, we had been in Hawarden less than a fortnight when a good canon of the Chester Diocese presented us with plates, crockery, knives, forks and spoons, but no teaspoons. We thanked him, if bemusedly. A few days later our Tertiary brothers and sisters of Flint asked to come for a day of prayer. We thought, innocently, how remarkable lucky it was that God sent the crockery and blithely agreed. There were no tables, there was no space, and crucially, there was no priest free to give the retreat, though we found a Father willing to come and say a quick mass.
Dear Mother gave the conferences. She claimed to be almost paralysed with terror but she put a bold front on it. Meanwhile, the sisters served a buffet in very tight quarters. We seem to remember that there were some splendidly unsuitable gateaux and they went a long way round. A few days later, the the SVP were inspired - (it must have been the Holy Spirit) - to give us some tables and chairs. They had, we admit, been cast out of an infant school. We put them in the stable. Then we received a phone call from a beautiful person, now with the Lord, Miss Lily Dabbs of Liverpool. She asked if it would be possible to bring a party of old people. There were forty of them. We said, “Yes”. After all, we had tables even if they were in fact, infant; well, they were largish.
This was long before we had a dining room for guests. We shoehorned the tables into the three downstairs rooms of the extern quarters. Then we sort of poured the extern quarters’ chairs round them. Mrs Lily Dabbs and her friends, ever after known as the Dabbchicks, arrived. There turned out to be forty-five of them. The heating failed. Just to make things really difficult for ourselves we had asked the Father to come for Mass at midday.
Somebody had given us a food warmer which we carted out and down the adjoining steps. The old extern kitchen had a gas stove which had been given to the community by Sr Stanislaus’ mother (Sr Stanni was, herself, then 77) and the cooker was a generation older! In these objects we expected to keep the dinner warm. The SVP had also bestowed on us a thing called a Baby Burco Boiler - (you boil nappies in it) and we blithely thought this was just the thing for making tea. So having raised it to the boil, about 5 minutes before midday Mass, we threw in the tea and the milk, turned it down as low as it would go, and tripped off to Mass.
In the middle of the sanctuary there was still, then, a solid brick wall with a communion grill of one inch iron bars and a glassed window over the altar. Thus we would not see much of each other, and we heard even less. We sang very impressively - well, God must have heard it. Then the three noble portresses, Sr Laetitia, Sr Marian and Sr Athene rushed out to serve the dinner.
An appalling scene hit their eyes. Even on its lowest light, the Burco still boiled and the tea leaves seemed to have upset it somehow, so that it erupted like Vesuvius. The floor was ankle deep in a teaish sea, the walls rained down steam, the hot beans on the top of the oven had boiled over and put the gas out. There was a strong odour of gas, amongst other things. The other pot had boiled dry and burned. The quiches and potatoes in the food warmer were okay but the ones in the antique gas stove - at the top - were incinerated and - at the bottom, were cold. One sister padded out with the first offerings whilst the others began to make more tea.
Meanwhile the guests had been padded in round the tables and there was no room to get the food in. Also there were five more people than announced. So Sr Marian placed such food as she had brought: - one pie cut into eight portions, before the lady at the head of the first table and shepherded the overflow off into a small room. Meanwhile the good lady, thinking that one pie was it, began to cut it into twenty-four portions. (This I possible. You cut each eighth into three! The result is very interesting.)
Out from the kitchen window Sr Laetitia watched, fascinated, as one elderly gentleman lugged a large statue of St Philomena onto the grass to take a photograph of it. St Philomena was suspended a few liturgical renewals ago, for insufficient evidence as to her existence.
After the food had finally been distributed and eaten, and fresh tea consumed, a hoard of ladies invaded the extern kitchen and completed the happiness of the day by finally drying up with Sr Athene’s choir kercheif which she had rashly set aside before starting the washing-up.
This was, as said, in another millennium entirely. Hospitality is now on a finer footing at Ty Mam Duw. There is a beautiful L- shaped public chapel and you can hear through the enclosure grille. There is a dining room for guests and a brick wall to prevent people from washing-up. But we still cook the occasional quiche...