Scotland's National Catholic magazine

Keeping the Faith in Iona

Jane Kindlen is the new warden of the Catholic House of Prayer in Iona. She explains why the small Catholic presence on the Holy Island is so important.

When did you first visit?

I’ve been visiting Iona since I was a child. I come from the Dunkeld Diocese originally, and came on my first pilgrimage here led by Bishop Vincent Logan.

On that first trip in the early 80s it was pouring rain horizontally, I couldn’t see out the ferry window or any sight of the abbey. We took the path up the ruined nunnery to the abbey and there was nothing to see because we had our heads down and hoods up the whole time.

I was scunnered!

It’s a very special place. When you have Faith, and you step foot here, different things illuminate themselves. Iona has been central to our Christian journey for centuries. I’ve just gradually fallen in love with Iona.

In the early 90s I had been considering religious life and I had went to London and trained to be a nun for a couple of years. But I had a big wobble and wondered if I did have a calling to religious life.

In the last five years I discovered the House of Prayer. I started to feel that it might be a calling.

The story of the House of Prayer

The vision of the House of Prayer first came from Mary Burn-Murdoch. The Catholic Church hadn’t been able to provide a priest to say Mass in the Ross of Mull.

This presented Catholics in the southwest corner of Mull and Iona the potential of having to drive all the way up to Tobermory to attend Mass or indeed go over to Oban.

That pushed Mary Burn-Murdoch to have this vision of wanting to develop a Catholic presence on the island. She spent a lot of time gathering support.

The late-Princess Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, was very instrumental in using a lot of her contacts, particularly in the Church to help fundraise.

And then the biggest challenge was finding a suitable site on Iona for the house. And when they did eventually find a site, then obviously they had to identify all the builders and have a sense of what were they looking to develop.

It’s kind of like a little acorn or a little mustard seed: the house started off quite small. It was just a single storey building with just three or four rooms with the oratory.

We were very fortunate that the Catholic Church gave permission for the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved on site.

As Mary Burn-Murdoch said, that’s been a very special part of the house of prayer. I take that as a huge responsibility to be a guardian of that, I live in the house. And I feel it’s a duty to safeguard the Blessed Sacrament.

Obviously, it’s locked safely in a tabernacle, but it’s not lost on me that we’ve had 400 years where the Blessed Sacrament wasn’t present on Iona. And now it’s been here since 1997.

And that’s just spine tingling for me.

Remote Catholicism

Iona is such a remote place: we’re an island off an island off the British mainland. We offer free accommodation to ordained priests in lieu of their celebrating Mass every day of their stay.

In the wintertime, there can be months where we don’t have priests. It’s an opportunity to reflect on ways of supporting our priests. We want to be authentic in answering our call and playing our part in being in the Church.

We’re so remote and given the reduced number of priests, it would be impossible for a priest to be based here. Whereas we lay people can still answer that call.

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