New York woman will travel 3,000 miles to visit her ‘virtual’ church in Ireland
Bonnie Mando’s voice fills with excitement as she talks about travel.
Last week, the Chenango Bridge resident ventured to Buffalo to join his classmates for a 60th anniversary reunion of Holy Angels Academy. At the beginning of September, she will leave for Ireland.
This is her first visit to her ancestral homeland, and the first time she will meet members of a church she attends virtually on shalomworld.org since 2020, close to the start of the pandemic.
“After almost 24 months of cocooning,” Mando said, “this virtual connection to a vibrant community was essential to my mental health.”
Mando made friendships with many people in Sts. Parish Peter and Paul in Portlaoise on the other side of the Atlantic.
“In addition to cards and letters, several priests, including the pastor, corresponded by email,” she said.
In February, Mando received a brochure from Sainte-Anne Retreat and Conference Center, near his Irish parish. Much more internet-savvy than she was over two years ago, she Googled the place and learned there had been a week-long retreat in September.
“The need for retirement was evident, several months of stress and tension,” Mando said. “It seemed like a perfect opportunity in the lovely heart of Ireland’s Midlands.”
The invitation was accompanied by the name of a nun from the Presentation, Sister Gabrielle Jin, “who had just taken the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience during a mass I had attended at Sts. Peter and Paul,” Mando said.
During the same week, she received correspondence from three other people in the parish. The pastor, Msgr. John Byrne; Deacon Eugene Keyes; and organist Louise Kavanaugh all wrote to him. Someone else sent him a picture of the Wicklow Mountains.
Mando said the retreat brochure described the same pleasant environment. She borrowed a quote from the flyer: “to provide respite in your ongoing faith journey, to reflect, refresh and renew.”
She was sold into retirement and invited a handful of others to join her.
“We call our ten-day trip to Ireland a visit to family and friends, although ‘family’ is defined as a choice because we are only bound by name,” Mando said. “We also say it will be a ‘church crawl’ as we plan to visit Carlow Cathedral and several nearby parishes.”
Mando said they were also looking forward to seeing the architecture of the church and spending time with a group of Poor Clare cloistered nuns.
And they hope to visit the parish clergy. “Many of the priests come from different countries, including Romania, China and Poland,” Mando said. “I hope we can discuss with them their role as people of faith who have been blessed for years in their training by the testimony of Irish missionaries.
She has also been in contact with Bishop Denis McNulty, Diocese of Kildare-Leighlin, she thanked him for bringing the Portlaoise Church Masses to shalomworld.org.
“Bishop Denis wrote to me to encourage participation in the synodal process, which is taking place around the world,” she said.
Mando also looks forward to spending time with the parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul. She said they could attend up to three masses a day.
For her, it will be a transition from a few years in front of a computer screen to being in person.
“I hope to experience a little of the joy with which the many people who work together to prepare the liturgies,” Mando said. “Hopefully we can say hi to some of the people we loved with and still have time to see the scenery of the lovely Midlands.”
But they will not spend all their time in church or on retreat. Mando expects them to also experience “a pinch of pub music”.
Church: Saint Francis of Assisi, Binghamton.
Residence: Chenango Bridge.
Education: Albany College of Pharmacy.
Retired: From the Broome Development Center.
Volunteers: Center of the workers of the southern part, Council of the religion of work and Action citoyenne.
Family: Widowed, her husband died in 2018. Together they volunteered for Maria House Projects in the Erie, Pennsylvania area.
For more information
Saint Peter and Paul in Ireland: portlaoiseparish.ie/virtual-tour-st-peter-and-st-pauls-church.
Shalom World: shalomworld.org.