In the monastery: pilgrimage and misconception

Knock in County Mayo in the West of Ireland is a place of pilgrimage ever since the Virgin Mary appeared there, or so it’s believed, in 1879.
Each year, Father Celestine – known with affection to the other monks as Kate because of his patent leather Cuban heels, his mincing steps and dramatic gestures – organised a two-day trip to Knock for about 30 boys of the school, the students considered more religiously inclined. Kate booked a bus for the trip and arranged overnight accommodation. The selected students were more than glad to pay all expenses, they escaped the confines of school for two days.
One year, the pilgrimage went badly. A few days after Kate and the boys got back to school, the abbot of the monastery, Dom Bonaventure, received a letter from a stall holder in Knock complaining the boys stole prayer books, scapulars, rosary beads, statuettes of the Virgin, small bottles of holy water, sandwiches and bars of chocolate from numerous stalls. The theft of chocolate and (overpriced) sandwiches was obvious enough; the theft of the other items was for the adolescent hell of it. Dom Bonaventure, rightly, passed the letter to Father Douglas, Head of School, and asked him to deal with the matter. Douglas, a stern man more feared than liked, was furious and embarrassed, and summoned Kate to his office and demanded an explanation. Kate denied all knowledge of what happened, and when the 30 or so students were summoned they, too, pleaded innocence. Douglas ordered a search of the boys’ lockers but nothing incriminating was found, the boys were a few steps ahead, and Douglas had no choice but to write a letter of apology to the stall holders. He enclosed a cheque for £100 by way of compensation. Nothing more was heard.
The following year, Kate decided a one-day pilgrimage was sufficient, easier to supervise, less risk for stall holders and less time for students to commit silly misdemeanours, and went ahead and booked a bus. After the booking, he went to Father Douglas as he was obliged to do for official approval.
‘You what?’ Douglas said.
‘Booked a bus but not overnight accommodation,’ Kate said. ‘One day will be enough, less expense for the students and less chance of anything going wrong.’
Douglas said, ‘Father Celestine, you don’t seem to understand. After last year’s embarrassment and humiliation for this school and for the monastery there will be no more pilgrimages to Knock.’
‘No, never again, never, and I’m surprised you think I would sanction it; frankly, I’m very surprised.’
Kate looked put out and his discomfort pleased Father Kevin, Deputy Head of School, who was sitting next to Father Douglas. Kevin disliked Kate and any setback or rebuke was welcome.
‘That was last year, Father Douglas,’ Kate said, ‘water under the bridge. We can forget the silliness and start over.’
‘No, we can’t forget, Father Celestine, and there will be no starting over. The students certainly haven’t forgotten. Are you aware what they refer to the pilgrimage as?’
‘No,’ Kate lied.
Father Douglas turned to Father Kevin and said, ‘Father, would you mind telling Father Celestine what the students call the pilgrimage?’
Kevin was more than happy to and said, ‘Father Celestine, they call it the pilfermage.
Haven’t you heard them laugh and say pilfermage?’
Kate wouldn’t give Kevin the satisfaction of admission and said, ‘No, I haven’t heard that,’ and threw his hands in the air.
‘That’s it then,’ Father Douglas said, ‘no more going to Knock.’
Kate tried to play a feeble last hand. ‘But I’ve already booked the bus,’ he said.
‘Then you need to cancel it, Father Celestine, there’ll be no more buses and no more Knock,’ Father Douglas said. He added as he usually did when a meeting was over, ‘I now have other matters to attend to.’
Father Kevin was delighted Kate had been put down and couldn’t wait to get to the monastery to share the news with other monks. He could have chosen to whisper the entire time but decided sign language was more interesting, and more to his intention. His first communication was a whispered ‘news’ and in a flash there was a gathering of about a dozen peers. News is always welcome in a monastery. The gathering waited for Kevin to whisper more but he chose to sign. He extended his arms straight in front and in the air inscribed a figure 8. Right away, everyone in the gathering knew he was referring to Father Celestine. Then he brought his hands in front of his chest and rolled them over each other rapidly several times to indicate wheels, and all understood. And then he raised his arms in front of his face and crossed them in an X. Confusion and consternation on every face as Kevin hoped there would be, and whispers of, ‘How can it be?’ and, ‘Impossible!’ One monk even blessed himself. No one in the gathering remembered it was time for Father Celestine to take the students to Knock for the annual pilgrimage, everyone interpreted as the wicked Kevin hoped they would that Kate had a miscarriage.

35 thoughts on “In the monastery: pilgrimage and misconception

  1. I couldn’t help but be totally amused by this “silently” funny story Uncle John. Poor Kate, had she only known ~ have a wonderful week!

  2. Love your amusing tales of the monastery, sometimes I get the feeling you have a bit of first hand experience….certainly not from 1879 young man, but just a little from somewhere.
    Much love John!
    Holly x

    • Yes, Holly, first hand knowledge. I taught at that school for a few years and was chummy with two monks on the teaching staff and they filled me in on everything that went on in the cloister. Of course I’ve changed names to protect the cunning..

      Big hugs


  3. Ha, ha, I didn’t see that coming. A bit of inside knowledge I sense here, John.
    Nice to see that the monks are just as petty, hierarchical and vindictive as most of society!
    Question is: ‘What happened to all the gear?’

      • God bless them 🙂
        John, I am in the process of arranging a meeting with a person who runs a camping park near Stoneyford. He loves and knows history and I cannot wait to see him. Hope I get some material for a blog post 🙂 Do you mind if I mention you?

  4. Of course you may mention me, Inese, no problem. You can tell the man the owner was John Flanagan, my namesake and uncle, and he and his wife Hedwig Geistoffer
    lived there with their son, Brian, and daughter, Doreen I used to visit when i was a boy.

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