My aunt was just 16 when she got the call. It was a young age at which to decide to devote your life to God, but then this was the Ireland of the 1930s, and it wasn’t unusual then.
She chose the Presentation Order. This was probably based on her undoubted admiration of the order’s foundress, Nano Nagle, but also on the fact that there was a Presentation Convent at the end of her road in Terenure.
When my aunt entered the convent, she entered a world of silence and prayer. The Presentation Sisters were a “silent order” until after Vatican II, so she spent the first 25 years of her religious life without speaking. Sometimes, in the family, we joke that she had made up for it since.
Once, when she was still a novice, she received a late-night visit from her mother. Naturally, she thought such a call presaged bad news, and rushed to the parlour.
There she saw her brother, who was a priest, and her mother, the matriarch of a family of 10. It turned out that this great lady had awoken tormented by the thought that my aunt had become somehow shaken in her vocation and was suffering a dark night of the soul down the road in the convent.
Reassured that all was well, the mother and her son left, and my aunt’s religious life continued on its steady course.
She was especially proud of her bother the priest, who earned a doctorate in Canon Law and went on the become a parish priest.
They often went on holiday together, bringing with them another member of the family – frequently my mother – for company.
It was quite common for large families to have a nun and a priest among their number. In those days, the church, along with the civil service and the motor trade, was one of the few steady professions open to the Catholic lower middle classes.
Banking and insurance, and to some extent academia, were seen then as largely the preserve of Prostestants.
After many years, my aunt was moved from Terenure to Clondalkin, where she taught in the school attached to the convent. Later, she spent some time in Rockford Manor in Stradbrook before moving back to Terenure.
Wherever she was based, she remained a frequent visitor to our house. When myself and my brother were stroppy teenagers, we used to quiz her about Catholic doctrine, about moving statues and Vatican banking scandals.
She did not rise to our bait, and we felt slightly ashamed of trying to goad her. When I got a little older, I began to see her convent, and all the other communities of monks and nuns, as little factories of good.
She took the news that her convent in Terenure was to be sold in good part. She was to be moved back to Clondalkin. She took her bed and one or two mementoes with her. One of these, a crib, she gave to my daughter two Christmases ago.
The further news that a company owned by Laurence Keegan had bulldozed the Terenure convent at 7.0am on a Saturday morning in November 2006 did not pierce her calm, either.
I’m not sure what my aunt – now in her early 90s – makes of Mr Keegan, who ignored several orders from Dublin City Council to rebuild the 1860s convent.
Or what she makes of judge David McHugh, who fined Mr Keegan’s company just €1,000 for moving in the bulldozers while the convent was in the process of being added to the register of listed buildings.
Or what she makes of Dublin City Council’s decision to grant Mr Keegan planning permission to build 32 houses where her convent stood.
But if I know my aunt, she is probably praying for them.