Finding a lace teacher is a daunting task and many of my forays led down blind alleys. Some lace teachers had gone to their heavenly reward, or lived in Puerto Rico or Minnesota. A teacher north of Boston was located, and many days for several years (lace is not an easily or quickly learned craft patience, and perseverance is required) I journeyed north at early morning light returning after sunset, with my head whirling with lace hang-on’s and tie-off’s. The crosses and twists and their rhythm and peace, though, were seeping into my soul.
Secretly, in my heart there still loomed this hope that somewhere was a sister who would teach me lace. But where was she? By now I was reasonably sure she was not in the United States. God did send another sister from the Congregation of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. She also loved lace, and once a month we gathered at the retreat house for the day to share the successes and failures of our lace learning, and to do and “talk lace.” A companion on the journey is a welcome gift. A twist of the lace thread turned up the Béguinage in Bruges Belgium. A backpacker’s blog told of a guest house within the Béguinage run by sisters! I thought surely in the city of lace, there must be a sister who does lace in a convent in Bruges.
Early one morning in the winter of 2012, I telephoned the Béguinage. The Béguinage is well-known for its beauty, peace, and unique architecture, and it is on every Bruges tourist’s list. I had actually been there one beautiful spring morning when I was 20 years old. The courtyard was covered in daffodils, a sight never to be forgotten and one often painted by the famous and the amateur. This view – which is now mine every day as I cross for the early lauds service, the midday, or closing of the church at Compline – lodged in a corner of my young heart. The love of lace had been with me as a small girl. My wedding dress was lace and my veil was bordered with Bruges lace. My vocation as a sister came late in life, as it had with many Béguines before me.
My rusty French served well on the telephone call from the Community of Jesus convent. However it turns out the public phone in the Béguinage is actually in the religious shop (sort of like our own Priory Gifts) and created a bit of amazement. First…I was from where? The United States. And I wanted what? A lace-making sister. “Sisters do not come to the shop,” I was told, which I later learned to be quite true as the shop is staffed by oblates and is located outside on the courtyard. However, and now even, the shopkeeper was astonished! There were sisters coming in the door, including the lace-making sister! Did I want to talk to them? Of course I did! Again to much chuckling and amazement, I restated I was Sr. Madeleine from the United States and I wanted to learn lace from the lace-making sister. After even more chuckling and amusement, (the sisters could not believe a sister from the United states was interested in coming to their Béguinage to learn lace), I was told to call the oblate who handles the guest house, and yes, I could come and stay. Sr. Marie Anne was in fact the lace-making sister, but I should really go to the Kantcentrum, the lace school in Bruges, for proper lessons. So began my lace adventures at the lace school and my contemplative life at an 800-year-old monastery.