To the young, parting is always hard, even if it’s only for a short while. On Friday evenings we boarders knew that we wouldn’t see our day-student friends till Monday morning, so we’d make the moment of parting last as long as we could.
Then there were the term-end holidays. However much we looked forward to going home, it was still difficult to part from our friends.
In St. Agnes’ Convent, Matale, Mother Principal would call an assembly in the school hall on the last day of term. After listening to a brief talk by her, we’d sing a hymn offering our holiday to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“Mother of all that is pure and good,
All that is bright and blessed,
As we have taken our toil to thee
So we will take our rest…”
After the hymn was sung, we knew that the holidays had really begun. We junior boarders would vow to write regularly to one another during the month’s holiday and we would do so – long, newsy letters.
However, the parting that was to take place in a few weeks time was, to me, no longer a temporary one of a week-end or a term-end holiday. I had passed my University Entrance examination and was about to enter the University of Peradeniya.
A few weeks before the event I went to my school, Good Shepherd Convent, Kandy to thank the nuns and teachers and to say goodbye to them.
Our Principal Mother St. Joseph spoke to me for a while. “Bernie,” she said, “You have had many blessings during your long period in convent boardings. Would you like to organize the annual candle-light procession in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a mark of gratitude to her?”
I nodded eagerly, “Of course I would.” I quickly got together a group of young boarders to help me. We took out hundreds of lanterns from a store-room, cleaned them and wrapped them in transparent blue and white waxed paper and placed fresh white candles inside. We also organized the hymn sheets for distribution.
When the day arrived, the procession started from the school hall. I looked around the large familiar hall where we had so often assembled to hear Mother Principal speak. On the stage was the school motto in Latin: “Fortiter et Suaviter”. The words leapt at me – “Strength and Sweetness”. How assiduously had the nuns and teachers tried to instil in our young minds that unbeatable combination of qualities!
From the school hall we proceeded towards the Convent Chapel. As the procession wound its way slowly up the steep hill, I stood at a point of vantage, viewing with satisfaction the event I had helped to organize.
There were the long lines of schoolgirls dressed in white, with glowing blue and white lanterns in their hands. They were followed by visitors to the school, the teachers and finally the nuns.
As I stood there watching it all, something strange happened. I seemed to see myself at the different stages of my life in the convent. I saw myself in the mischievous faces of the little ones, and there I was - among the young teenagers quickly exchanging a smile with a friend, and now I was walking amidst the older students, our faces grave with the solomnity of the occasion. As I watched my life re-enacted, I realized with a pang that my convent days were fully and finally over.
I re-joined the procession and we filed into the chapel for a short service. As I knelt there, I wondered what was in store for me beyond the walls of the convent that had sheltered me for so long and the nuns who had cared for me. Ahead of me the University beckoned, and I asked myself the question that all young people have asked since the beginning of time; “What will my future be? What does life hold for me?”
And in the words of the song I said to myself, “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be....... The future’s not ours to see, que sera, sera.”
This series is now concluded