“Those working at a great distance and cannot get to the oratory at the proper time—the Abbot judging that such is the case—shall perform the Work of God in the place where they are working, bending their knees in reverence before God.”
ministry in manitoba
The revival of the Gilbertines began in and was first based in Brandon, Manitoba on the Canadian Prairie. Charles House and Ferrar House, with the Oratory of the Holyrood was the base from which they conducted their ministry of prayer, presence and service. The original members of the community became full members of the Catholic Church at St. Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church, and worshipped there as well. The community has since, upon a request of their bishop, relocated to Calgary, Alberta.
the oratory of the holyrood
The Oratory of the Holyrood was the first oratory established by the renewed Gilbertine community. It was formerly located at Ferrar House in Brandon, Manitoba and was accessible from the garden. ‘Holyrood’ is from the Old English—‘rood’ meaning ‘cross’. The Oratory was a special place to reflect on the Lord’s passion; His saving sacrificial love.
The oratory served the community for a short time. It was opened on Roodmas 2016, about a month before members left the Anglican Communion, with the last service of Lauds said there on the Feast of St. Athanasius 2017. Though it was dismantled when the community began settlement in Calgary, Alberta, the oratory served a very important spiritual function for the fledgling group as they came into full communion with the Chair of St. Peter.
The altar, baptismal font, lectern and three pews found in the Oratory of the Holyrood came from the oldest Anglican Church of the Anglican Diocese of Brandon, St. Thomas’, Rapid City (now closed). Anglican bishop, the Rt. Rev’d William Cliff gifted them to the community in 2016 because poor St. Thomas’ was falling down, was at risk for fire, and the furnishings needed an home where they would be used and lovingly cared for.
St. Thomas’ church building was finished in 1881. The handmade pews are similar to those found in the Red River Anglican churches of the 1850s and 60s and have graffiti on them dating as far back as the 1880s. Two were taken from the back row where apparently bored boys (and even a Church Warden!) carved their initials and made other drawings. The remaining pew was taken from the quire up at the front and was shortened. The altar, made of oak, was given in memory of Thomas Lewis Owen Williams MC, a Captain in the Canadian Infantry who died 21 October 1918. There is no memorial attached to the lectern or font, though the bowl inside was originally from St. George’s, Kenton, 1906. The round stained glass window, also gifted by the Anglican bishop, came from the Diocesan Synod office chapel, where it came from before that is currently unknown.
The members of the Community of St. Gilbert of Sempringham are grateful for these kind gifts and were happy to bring them new use and dignity in the Oratory of the Holyrood. The community still owns the furnishings though they wait in storage for future use.
The sacred little place could accommodate up to ten people and provided for an intimate place to pray the Divine Office, collect one’s thoughts and find spiritual rest and renewal. Guests found the oratory a place where God’s peace could be glimpsed at in a tangible way; the Brothers and Sister who worshipped there found it a place of true holiness.
Ferrar House, named after Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, an Anglican who was among the first to re-establish the Religious life with members of his family in England after the Reformation, housed the Oratory of the Holyrood and is where Sister Myrna-Mary used to reside. The long-term dream was to establish Ferrar House as a place of spiritual retreat, this vision has not yet been realised by the community.
“We had hoped Ferrar House would have become a place of urban retreat—a place where people could come and stay in order to find spiritual refreshment and renewal.” Sr. Myrna-Mary says. She had hoped to manage the day-to-day operations of the one bedroom apartment located in an heritage home in the heart of the city. She goes on to say that even though the dream did not come to fruition, the House was none-the-less a place that helped sanctify a neighbourhood that has seen more than its fair share of poverty and the heart ache that comes with that. “With our oratory inside, it was a place of prayer where we and our guests brought prayers to a neighbourhood that needs it” she says.
“The neighbourhood where Ferrar House is situated is in transition” Bro. Robert-Charles, Prior of the community, says. He explains that that it is a colourful neighbourhood with several new immigrant families. “Folks come from Russia and the Ukraine, Pakistan, Mexico, Africa... many have known real hardship and poverty, and while things are much better in Canada, beginning a new life comes with a whole host of challenges.”
“I think our presence at Ferrar House will be missed” Sr. Myrna-Mary continues. “Not every dream can come true, but you never know what the future holds” she says. “Perhaps one day an urban retreat can be founded in the community; perhaps our Order will send Sisters and Brothers in the future to take up ministry again in Brandon.”