Apart from carrying on our individual discernment journeys, part of the work of the initial Cornerstone community was to discern whether a new religious community was required to respond to certain needs in the Church and in the world of today.
We recognised that many young people were unsupported in their vocational journeys and often tried satisfying the desire for religious life by joining communities abroad. Camilla herself had tried this (see her story) and realised that this is not always the answer to the search for meaning. Ideas of a homegrown community continued to come to her mind. The first thoughts she had already jotted down on the 13th October of 1999:
‘‘At the same time any new community I would like to see centred on God, on the Word of God, on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. We need communities of mature men and women who live by faith, who are ‘experts in humanity’, who are passionately in love with God, with each other and with the whole of creation. People strong in faith because they have known the struggle of integrating within themselves the different tensions which each person carries within. People strong in faith who know what compassion and mercy mean because they have encountered within themselves the intrinsic poverty of the human condition, and hence do not put heavy burdens on the shoulders of those they meet. People strong in faith because they know that the call to change for the better, the call to conversion, is addressed first of all to themselves rather than to others. Then they will be able to effect change for the better around themselves just by BEING, not relying on what they do, knowing that only HE can bring about true and lasting change in a person’s heart. Men and Women who love the Church and are ready to give their lives for the Truth she teaches, despite all the weaknesses they experience in themselves or difficulties they face externally. People who, in faith, are willing to take risks to proclaim the Truth but with gentleness because they know that they, for first, often fall short of the ideals reached for. It is God who is in control and, thank heavens, he knows how to turn EVERYTHING into good for those who love him and try to serve him.’
At the time it seemed all so ridiculous to Camilla who was aware of how easily she could deceive herself. Despite the encouragement of a couple of people to set up something, she knew she had to wait. If it was of God, a similar desire would manifest itself in other young women and the means would come. And DID THEY COME?. If God wants something he gets things going despite our resistances!
During the second and final year in Cornerstone she managed to write down some of her ideas for the statutes for the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham. Three other young women from the discernment community and the Vocations Discernment Group also felt drawn to the project and helped to ‘fine-tune’ this document. “What we dream alone remains alone, what we dream together becomes reality”. On the advice of Westminster Diocese the statutes were reviewed by Sr Sharon Holland IHM in Rome in October 2003 and later approved by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. He granted us the decree of erection as a public association destined to become a religious institute in time for our foundation day, the Feast of the Epiphany, 6th January 2004.
The Founding Mass was celebrated on that day by Fr John Armitage and Fr Noel Wynn in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham with just the four founding members and Mr Timothy McDonald (then MC of the Shrine) who has since become a great friend of the community (lefthand photo). From September 2004 until August 2017 we ran Abbotswick House of Prayer for Brentwood Diocese and since then we have been managing Dowry House, the retreat centre for the Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
In recent years, the canonical status of the community was changed to a public association of the faithful destined to become an Ecclesial Family of Consecrated Life. Since the founding year, new canons have emerged allowing men and women to be part of one single entity. These seemed more in line with the original inspiration of the community so, with the help of Sr Marta Balog from the Vatican (see photo on the right), the statutes were reformulated to reflect this new reality.
Two of the founding members, Lizzie and Sona, are now married and helping with the establishment of the lay branch which is developing in different parts of the country. Over the years many lay people have voluntered with us and/or sustained us in various ways. Several of these asked to share our charism and, faithful to the founding, inspiration, can now share in this gift that the Lord has given us. Rules of life are being prepared for both lay (single and married members) and for diocesan priests who wish to live the COLW charism.
6th January 2004. Foundation Day, Pre-foundation Retreat and the First 6 Months of life in COLW