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Home Away from Home!

Monday, August 05, 2019

Home Away from Home! Lilian Lee, Lay Chaplain at St Albert's Catholic Chaplaincy in Edinburgh, reflects on her evolving relationships and faith journey with the Dominican friars, beginning with her time as an undergraduate, and now as a colleague engaged in supporting and forming university students in faith and friendship.

The Chaplaincy and Me

St Albert's Catholic Chaplaincy, the Dominican-run chaplaincy and parish in Edinburgh, has played a much bigger part in my life than I could have ever expected. When I arrived in Edinburgh from Singapore as a young, international student ready to undertake my architecture degree, I was excited to experience a new country and ready to dive straight into all that Freshers' Week had in store.

My mum, who had accompanied me on my journey, had a different priority: to establish me within a supportive Catholic community and to make sure that I attended Mass! This led to me and my Mum attending the first student Mass of the semester at St Albert's (where some people mistook her for a mature student!) and me dutifully buying my Catholic Students' Union membership and promising to attend Mass every Sunday. Home Away from Home!

Encountering the Faith as an Adult

What started out as a promise to my mum turned into so much more. It was at the Chaplaincy that I realised that now as a young adult I had to take the decision for myself whether or not I was going to pursue truth and faith in my life. As a cradle Catholic, faith was part of my family life growing up. We would attend Sunday Mass, I enjoyed my weekly Tuesday evening catechism classes and there were crucifixes hung up in every room of our house. But despite this, I hadn't yet really encountered what it meant to claim my faith as my own.

At first, I went along to Mass and to student events not knowing anybody else. But this didn't last very long, and I soon made friends – some of whom I hope will be lifelong! I got more and more involved, and ended up being elected as the CSU president! My knowledge of and respect for the Dominican charism really grew during my time at university. In my first year, the dynamic duo of Fr Simon and Fr Peter helped to plant seeds of wisdom infused with a lot of laughter. They made living a life of faith fun!

I grew to appreciate the depth of my Catholic faith through weekly discussions on relevant issues, retreats and events. However, equally important was the space which the Dominicans generously gave us students just to 'be' and to socialise, which really fostered a sense of community and supported all of us in not only the day-to-day of university, but in persevering on our faith journeys. Yet it was Fr Martin's kind and supportive presence that truly cemented the Chaplaincy as my 'home away from home' when I unexpectedly lost my father.

Post-University Activities

After university, I made my home in Edinburgh, working in various architectural and business roles. I started a young adults group (the Ministry of Seekers – which has incidentally just celebrated its 10th anniversary with a Camino pilgrimage!) to try and capture some of the vitality of youthful Catholic community which I had experienced at the Chaplaincy as a student, and to support myself and others in staying faithful to our call to follow Christ.

Home Away from Home!

Becoming a Lay Chaplain

Throughout this time, I was still around the Chaplaincy as I enjoyed attending morning prayer with the Dominicans. One of the priests who was posted to Edinburgh for a period was Fr Lawrence, who also grew up in Singapore, and with whom I became friendly. One day when we met for lunch he had a very ­unexpected proposition for me! Would I be interested in becoming a lay chaplain, working alongside the Dominicans?

I could have never imagined this opportunity and had certainly never considered working in chaplaincy before. But the suggestion stirred something in my heart and I realised that I had a passion to help students to meet the Lord in the profound way that I had at university, and not only that but I had unwittingly been preparing myself for this role in leading the young adults group and in other ways in the past years.

Thus began a new level of relationship with the Dominican family for me! From being my chaplains in my formative young adult years, they are now my colleagues and friends. After a three-hour-long chat with Fr Dermot, who was Prior at St Albert's at the time, he pioneered the role of Lay Chaplain, and has been instrumental in guiding my growth in the role. I've enjoyed working with the other chaplains since I started. Firstly, Fr Irenaeus who added some Caribbean spice and engaged us in learning his catchy songs ('God's word, the Eucharist and pray everyday...'). Then entered Fr John, and his insightful homilies, that never cease to make us reflect, ponder and put into practice God's wisdom.

Women's Fellowship

Having been a student myself at the Chaplaincy, I feel able to relate closely to the experiences of a lot of the students. Like any new role, it took a while to ease into and to pinpoint initiatives that I wanted to develop and exactly what my contribution to the chaplaincy team would look like. One key thing which I have looked to do is to support the young women in the chaplaincy by creating Young Women's Fellowship groups, where we have led discussion and bible reflections. This gives the young women opportunities not only to learn about their faith, but to discover who God has uniquely created them, and is calling them, to be. Of course, the Dominicans contribute hugely to the formation of the female students as well, but this space with a focus on the 'feminine genius' allows the young women to confidently open up to each other in a way they don't always feel comfortable to do when men are around! This culture of encounter with each other (and also with their own selves!) helps in leading them towards a more profound encounter with Christ.

Journey in Faith

Working in ministry has its challenges as well as its blessings. My mum continues to be a source of caring wisdom in my life to whom I turn to for advice and support, but she took a while to accept that I was not putting into practice my architecture and business degrees but working as a lay chaplain! In recent months, however, she has acknowledged that this role has matured my own faith life in ways that only doing the Lord's work would bring. This ministry has certainly been unexpected not only for my mum but for me.

However, I have experienced a deep peace and joy in the work (even when it can be tiring, demoralising or frustrating on the surface!) which has given me confidence that God knows what we need and offers us a joy that we may never have expected. My journey with the Dominicans has given me a deeper appreciation of what the prophet Jeremiah wrote: 'For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope'. The Lord knows his plan even when we do not. And for that I will be eternally grateful!

We would like to express our gratitude to those grant-making trusts that have made it possible to develop this role at St Albert's Chaplaincy.

You can support the Chaplaincy via their website.


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