Sister Act: Hermit nuns not part of ‘any religious community in Irish Catholic Church’

Dublin native Sr Irene Gibson established her first hermitage in Co Mayo in 1990s

Sr Irene Gibson and Sr Anne Marie Loeman, Carmelite Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus, are pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court on Tuesday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts.

Sr Irene Gibson and Sr Anne Marie Loeman, Carmelite Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus, are pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court on Tuesday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts.

 

Sr Irene Gibson, who was on Tuesday fined for failing to obtain planning permission for a west Cork hermitage, may have chosen a contemplative life but has had plenty of media exposure.

She is a member of the self-styled Carmelite Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus, which is not listed as a constituent member of the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland. The Carmelite Order in Ireland has stated it has no connection with her.

A spokesman for the Bishop of Cork and Ross, in whose diocese the hermitage at Leap was built, said that Sr Gibson and her follower, Sr Anne Marie Loeman, do not belong to any religious community within the Irish Catholic Church.

On a GoFundMe page set up to help raise funds for an alternative hermitage after her planning issues, Sr Gibson said the decision to pursue her over the unauthorised development was indicative of “the malicious work of Satan working through his disciples”.

“It should not surprise us then that he (Satan) is trying very hard to destroy religious life in the Catholic Church, and in particular, contemplative religious orders, who are the heartbeat of the Catholic Church,” she wrote.

She is since believed to have purchased a property to build a hermitage near Dunmanway from donations received.

Outlined hopes

A native of Dublin, Sr Gibson established her first hermitage - Mount Tabor Hermitage near Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo - in the 1990s and modelled it on 12th century Carthusian monks. She outlined her hopes for it on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

It would be, she said, “a traditional community of women religious dedicated to a life of prayer and adoration, religious mortification and penance in the silence of solitude for the salvation of all people but in particular for priests”.

She closed the hermitage in 2001 after having found it difficult to find priests who could say the Latin or Tridentine Mass, which she was reported as saying there was “a hatred for” among the church hierarchy.

Earlier this year, she was pursued by the Health Products Regulatory Authority and forced to remove online content following complaints that she was selling a banned ointment, a black salve paste promoted as a cure for skin cancer.

“The HPRA can confirm that ..... it recently requested the removal of social media content containing medicinal claims in respect of products sold by the Carmelite Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus in West Cork,” the authority stated.