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In 2005 Eleanor O'Brien returned to Ireland. She is similar to many missionaries whose 'mission' after many years abroad is then to make the necessary adjustments to life back in their home country. Eleanor wrote the piece below at the request of the Irish Missionary Union's returning missionaries’ desk. 



Eleanor O'Brien

In 2005 I returned to Ireland after nearly 40 years abroad – this coincided with my retirement from an English language school in Santiago de Chile. Before that I had lived in England for many years with shorter times in France, Italy and Kenya. While I was abroad my parents had died, my brothers had married and created their families while Ireland had converted itself into the much admired and internationally famous "Celtic Tiger".

I began my TRANSITION to retirement  with the acquisition of a Certificate in Pilates Teaching to help my  own and others´ fitness – these exercises are a combination of stretching exercises and deep breathing,: most useful in today's sedentary and/or stressful lifestyle.  A 4 month renewal course with New Directions at the JSTB in San Francisco brought me up to speed on the current thinking on subjects as diverse as the importance of the Cultural Context in any religious activity, Aging and the Human Spirit and Transition and Transformation. There I availed of the opportunity of regular Spiritual Direction and Retreat.

Immediately before coming to Dublin on a New yet to be discovered Mission I contacted the IMU and there got the most valuable help : The Returned Missionaries´ Desk in the person of Sr Rita Kelly MMM found me suitable short term accommodation in the St Louis Mission House in Rathmines , within walking distance of  the city centre. Living there as a guest with no domestic responsibilities allowed me the time to rest, to enjoy Sr Sinead's good cooking  and the company of the other guests as well as  the kindness of Sr Mary. I made myself go out each day to get to know modern Dublin - despite the wet cold of the Irish winter! I visited my family in Dublin and Tipperary getting in touch with their daily lives and concerns as a local instead of an irregular visitor.  I took every opportunity to attend community meetings and gradually my sisters and I became used to each other again as members of the one area – and so, with them too, I dropped my visitor identity of many years.

Thanks to an informative  interview with Sr Rita I organised my psychological accompaniment, registered with a doctor, dentist etc and gradually got used to the change from private medicine in the Southern hemisphere to the Irish public system. I updated my driving licence. I also attended a Bible summer school at Marianella and a Cosmology weekend in Emmaus: these helped me to meet people and brought me up to date on these vital areas of Christian life. Comhlamh helped me redo my CV and accept that I may now have to work voluntarily despite being under 65 without pension or free travel. Ireland's pool of voluntary workers has shrunk in recent years. Finally I offered my services as an English teacher to the Migrant and Asylum Seeker Agencies, i.e. the Mercy Sisters´Open Door Project and the Jesuit Refugee Service – in this I was inspired by my previous experience of teaching the children of Irish and other immigrants in England.

Most helpful of all was my participation in the excellently staffed annual REAP week organised by the IMU in Orlagh Retreat Centre – it was an excellent debriefing on the small and big traumas of my life so far for myself and a launch into my new identity as a retired woman religious arriving on mission in Ireland at the start of the 21st century. Following the Eckhart House Course for a year helped me to integrate different aspects of myself but I am still looking for the specialised spiritual direction needed by retired women. I understand that it is usual for a returned exile to need at least one month of adaptation for every year spent abroad – that is my experience. I think the chance of a short  visit to Chile, where I saw how life had moved on in my absence, helped me leave it psychologically as well as physically and so actually arrive in Ireland for my new mission.

Finally I would like to thank my community of La Retraite and my Family for all the support and opportunities given to me – I also wish to thank  Sr Ellen Lane, IMU, for the opportunity of sharing my experience of Transition and  Pilates skills.

Eleanor O'Brien                                             

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