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Cardinal Cormac: A man devoted to prayer

by Sr Clement Doran

When he was appointed Archbishop of Westminster in 2000 Cardinal Cormac (then Bishop of Arundel & Brighton, in which our Augustinian mother house is situated) asked our Mother General Sr Thomas if three sisters could join him at Archbishop’s House, Westminster. So, together with Sr Barbara (since deceased) and Sr Pius, I came to Westminster in the summer of 2000.

He called this a new outreach for us, as the first Augustinian nursing sisters to work in the Diocese of Westminster. He wanted to have our community’s support in daily prayer and in sustaining what he called ‘a rhythm of prayer’ in Archbishop’s House. Behind the warmth of his charming personality dwelt a man completely devoted to prayer, for whom prayer was the central focus of his life. His own prayer was contemplative and came from the heart: I believe that as he sat in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, he opened his heart to Our Lord.

A spirit of prayer pervaded the new Archbishop’s home. In keeping with his priorities, our lives revolved around the times for prayer throughout the day. Cardinal Cormac began his day in private prayer at 6.30am, with his Private Secretary, our sisters and any guest(s) who happened to be staying. At 6pm each evening, regardless of other commitments or demands, we had Eucharistic Adoration in the Archbishop’s chapel; whoever arrived in the chapel first would expose the Blessed Sacrament. Dinner would be cooking as we prayed and we would then have our evening meal together, joined by any house guests.

Those of us who shared his home, his Private Secretaries and our sisters, were inspired by his prayerful example, not only at the times he spent before the Lord, but also over the rest of the day when an inner peace flowed from his life of prayer. In his memoirs, ‘An English Spring’, he wrote: ‘The Church has always been my heart and my home. It has brought order to my life, a sense of beauty, a sense of belonging to a living tradition that has been handed down through the centuries. The Church has always been and remains the centre of my faith and my prayer.’

My abiding memory of Cardinal Cormac will be of a priest at prayer, a pastor whose programme for renewal began and ended with the words of the Psalm we recited together each morning in his chapel and which he quoted in a Pastoral Letter in 2003 as an invitation to evangelise in the diocese: ‘Come in, let us bow and bend low. Let us kneel before the God who made us. For he is our God and we the people who belong to his pasture, the flock that is led by his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts.’

I had the privilege of being with the Cardinal in the final days and hours of his life. He died as he had lived: at prayer and at peace. His final words were, ‘start the Rosary’.

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