Mass marks end of women's confraternity at Clonard
IT was the end of an era yesterday as the women's confraternity at Clonard church in west Belfast met for the final time in 122 years.
Among those who attended a special closing Mass was Bishop Anthony Farquhar, Ireland's longest-serving Catholic bishop.
The Church of the Holy Redeemer, just off Falls Road, is home to the Redemptorist order and the main celebrant at the mass was Fr Dan Baragry, Provincial Irish Redemptorist.
Set up in July 1897 to cement Clonard's establishment in west Belfast, the Confraternity of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St Alphonsus immediately drew huge numbers.
By 1907, it boasted a 1,600 membership while more than 1,900 women attended the first women's retreat in 1912.
Speaking to The Irish News last week, Fr Peter Burns, rector of Clonard, said the women's confraternity now drew only "very, very small" numbers and that after consultation, the Redemptorist community decided it would be "more honourable and fitting to bring closure and to do so with appropriate celebration and thanksgiving".
Fr Burns said that while there was a sadness about the closure, there was "so much to celebrate".
"During that time, so many have experienced such blessing, not just the many thousand women who have been faithful members but their families and communities," he said.
"The confraternity didn't simply offer spiritual instruction and nourishment to its members, the very name suggests an experience of belonging, of community with others."