A Life written by God

Icon of the Transfiguration. written by Sr. Irene of Le-Bec,
in the Chapel of the Transfiguration, Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Epping, Essex.

Sr Irène

‘Pray to your Father who is in secret’.  Matthew 6:6

A number of years ago I was searching for an iconographer to write an icon of St. John the Baptist for a church dedicated to him in Epping, Essex.

On a visit to Bec-Hellouin in Normandy I arrived at a Convent which sold what appeared to be original icons. When I enquired about them, I was immediately introduced to Sr. Irène. By the end of our visit she was commissioned to write the icon for us. Not, however, without a small consultation! In the original icon, the figure of John was part of a triptych with our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He occupied the right hand panel. Because of where he would be positioned, with his hands facing the Blessed Sacrament, I needed him on the left! Sister Irène had to consult in prayer with St Tikhon, the original writer before it was agreed! She was to write three other icons for me. Two are of the Transfiguration and one of St. John.

Tonight we have just heard that Sister Irène died at Candlemass. I was so glad that I had been able to see her again last August.

These notes are from Sr Marie-Patrick of the Community at Bec.

Of Burgundian origin, and an elder sister to three boys, Chantal Boillot – Sister Irène Marie – entered the monastery at the age of 38, after caring for her elderly parents. She joined a novitiate which was then numerous (9!) and which shook her up a bit… She made profession as an Oblate nun on the feast of St. Benedict, July 11, 1979, and was soon sent to our little foundation at Mesnil saint Loup, near Troyes. As life in Troyes proved difficult, she was transferred to our other foundation in Abu Gosh in the Holy Land, on 1 February 1984. She stayed there for a good eight years but was called back to Le Bec at the end of 1992, a decision that was painful for her and that she never explained.

Back at Le Bec, she was able to deploy her talents as an iconographer, and even organised a few training sessions in this art. Very cultured and quite original, her interventions were sometimes unexpected, always enriching, but you didn’t want to be in a hurry!

In recent years, she bravely faced serious health difficulties, with cancer spreading despite numerous operations. Heavy treatment – which exhausted her – proved necessary.  Recently, the nurse who came early to take a blood test found her struggling for breath and called the paramedics.  Taken to Evreux, to the department that was treating her for her cancer, she was quickly transferred to cardiology: her heart problem – which had remained in the background until then – had worsened! Under oxygen and perfusion, she did not know when she would have a heart operation; and on her last visit, Mother Prioress admired her confident state of peaceful abandonment:
“That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Sister Irene said to her with simplicity,
leaving us with an exemplary testimony of a profound life of faith of which she spoke little.
Her condition deteriorated rapidly despite the care of the clinic staff – whom we thank warmly – and she passed away at the age of the prophetess Anna, at the end of the first Vespers of February 2, (Candlemass), entering into that eternal Light to which she aspired with all her being.

If I were to try and sum her up, I would say that she was a person of deep holiness with a careful eye on the world.  A writer of Icons which she infused with prayer and which she treated with utmost reverence.  A woman of determination who served her Lord with dogged determination, not least through her long illness and sometimes in times of spiritual trial.  All this and more framed in a gentle face with twinkly eyes and a genuine smile. We have a new and caring friend in heaven. 

May she rest in peace and Rise in Glory!

Mr G.
[all photos by Mr G.]

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