by Sr ENID LAGAN, RSM
CHRISTCHURCH — Well here I am at age 86 having lived a full and happy life as a Sister of Mercy.
Retirement in a rest home doesn’t mean life stands still — in fact I am spending every spare minute knitting scarves for needy children. We had been challenged to produce 12,000 by the end of May!
I am from Irish stock on both sides, so naturally our Catholic Faith was vital to us. There were holy pictures in all our rooms at home, the rosary was prayed straight after tea each night, and we attended Mass on Sunday as a family.
But when I was about 12, I gave up on religion. I was in trouble at school, my parents, Charles and Anne Lagan, were concerned for me and I was very unhappy. I remember one Saturday, sitting in my room reading a book, taking nothing in. Then I heard a voice asking me: “And where is it all going to get you?”
I knelt down and prayed for the first time in months: “Oh God, I can’t cope. Please help me.” I felt a warm opaque liquid flow gently over me and I stood up, renewed.
My sister, Fay, was then going to Mass every morning, and I joined her. We had only one bike to travel hilly Timaru so Fay would set out running three lamp posts while I biked, then we swapped.
Some time later, Fay entered the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary and later I felt God calling me to religious life, also as a missionary.
This wasn’t easy for my parents, as I was the last one at home. Finally, I asked them for permission to enter the Sisters of Mercy in Timaru. This was granted and I have never regretted my decision.
I trained as a teacher, and this became my main work. Over many years, I have really enjoyed teaching in Christchurch, Timaru and on the West Coast.
In every place there were challenges. Some time later in Christchurch, I had to visit a specialist who was also a Catholic, and he said, “You know, you’d be better in a warmer climate”.
“Would you put that in writing?” I asked. “Why?” he said. “For the last 40 years I have wanted to go to the missions,” I replied.
The recommendation was delivered to the sister in charge. The wheels turned and in 1982 I was on my way to Tonga, where I was to spend almost 16 memorable years. Looking back I remember thinking over there, “I have the best of both worlds. I’m a Sister of Mercy and a missionary at last.” Sadly, sickness caught up on me and I had to return home.
Not ready to throw in the sponge, I rang the principal at the local Catholic primary school offering my services. My CV included expertise in cutting paper and buttering bread, and they could have me for free. I was accepted and spent six happy years helping in the lower classes.
Time passed. One day I met a former pupil then at St Bede’s, who remembered when I did up his shoes at age five!
In time I became a resident at Nazareth House and was there for the earthquakes. After the first very frightening one on September 4, 2010, I told God I was ready if he wanted me, but I heard a voice saying, “No, I still have work for you to do”.
That bad jolt was mild compared with the big one on February 22, 2011. Nazareth House was badly damaged and we had to be taken to Stoke in Nelson. The cries of residents on that seven hour trip in darkness will always be with me, but on arrival the warmest hospitality greeted us.
The day after we arrived, Myra, a resident at our new home, asked me to help her become a Catholic. I spoke to the parish priest and he gave his approval. Today, Myra is a devoted Catholic deeply committed to Our Lady and her rosary.
After three months in the sunny Nelson area, we returned to Christchurch to an equally comfortable rest home. From there, five of us residents help young boys who attend St Thomas of Canterbury College next door and who have reading difficulties.
We know not what the future holds, but it is all in the Divine Plan. We are content.