What is the point of the contemplative life? Wouldn’t you be better running an orphanage than stuck inside a monastery praying all day?

On the other hand, who can calculate the effect of all the prayers that are voiced on our behalf? And the lives of contemplative Religious send out ripples.

I found this for myself recently. After we ran an obituary in the Telegraph of a remarkable nun called Sister Mary David Totah, I took our two older children to stay at Quarr Abbey, the Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Wight. That incredibly valuable experience was a result of putting together Sister Mary David’s obituary and talking to her friends. She had a “charism for friendship”, her abbess said.

She grew up as Michele or “Mickey” in a close-knit family of Catholics who had emigrated to Philadelphia from Ramallah, near Bethlehem. She took a DPhil at Oxford on literary modernists, meanwhile throwing herself into the social life.

Towards the end of her work on her thesis she stayed at St Cecilia’s Abbey, a few miles east of Quarr on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. It is an enclosed community belonging, like Quarr, to the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes,

founded in 19th-century France at Solesmes Abbey as a beacon of liturgical renewal.

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