This is the sixth year that we have run Health and Salvation retreats for healthcare workers at Boarbank. The chosen theme was ‘Love your Neighbour’.

Participants had also requested an introduction to the ways in which philosophy might be helpful for thinking about medical questions, so a philosophical theme also ran through the week.

We began by watching the film Invictus, which tells the story of the way in which Nelson Mandela used the success of the Springbok rugby side to bring together former enemies within South Africa. Not only did the film exemplify the theme of the week, it also proved an excellent source of examples for Sr Margaret’s talk on ‘Philosophy for novices’, as it showed the way in which careful reflection could enable people to think through issues and change their minds. With the help of a few cartoons, Sr Margaret sketched the basic elements of philosophy: logic, epistemology, metaphysics and ethics, and showed why they were important for daily life.

Fr Dixie explored St Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan, bringing out the concrete details and showing the way in which examples could transform the way in which we see the other. These theological and philosophical themes were continued later in the week with seminars on ‘teaching morality’ and on ‘philosophy and love’, which used texts by Herbert McCabe and St Thomas Aquinas. A particular focus was the question which is often being asked today in relation to the NHS, ‘Can you teach compassion?’
Our weeks always mix the theoretical with the practical, and this was no exception. Our local dentist, David Tomison, gave us a very inspiring illustrated presentation of the voluntary work he does on the Amazon River in Peru. Two boats, Amazon Hope 1 and Amazon Hope 2, provided by the Vine Trust (, sail regularly down the Amazon in a specially equipped boat, as part of a team of medics and dentists, including both local professionals and foreign volunteers, to provide on-going healthcare for the inhabitants of remote villages. David emphasised the importance of providing a service that was sustainable, and showed how the dental health of his patients had improved steadily over the years he had been involved in the project. Later in the week, Sue Lawrenson talked about volunteering, drawing on her extensive experience with both the St John’s Ambulance ( and the Across Trust (; see also Sue described the history of the St John from its roots in the Hospitaller Order of St John before going on to discuss the work done by both organisations today and the challenges facing the volunteer sector.
Another session, led by Dr Karen Groves, used case studies provided by the group to reflect on the best way to deal with difficult patients or difficult situations. We discussed these in small groups from the same disciplines, then shared our conclusions with the wider group. As always, there is a great interest in seeing how other kinds of professionals view situations in complementary ways. An optional session, which was attended in the event by all of the group, looked at the Liverpool Care Pathway, which has been arousing controversy and some misrepresentation, in the Press. Dr Ged Corcoran explained the rationale of the LCP and how it should be used, and participants were able to raise their concerns about its misuse as well as reporting positively on its benefits when appropriately used. It is hoped that this conversation will be taken further, as the continued improvement of end-of-life care in our hospitals, nursing homes and family homes, is something dear to the hearts of all healthcare professionals, and especially appropriate for Catholics, who have so rich a tradition in this on which to draw.
These discussions took place throughout the week in the context of shared prayer, meals and social activities. As usual, we celebrated Morning, Evening and Night Prayer and Mass daily, joining the Boarbank community where possible, but also celebrating our own Masses together as a group. Fr David Ryder kindly acted as chaplain for the week; we are very grateful to him and to Fr Morrough for presiding at Mass and preaching. We also celebrated together a Mass for the sick at which members of the Community and patients from our Marymount Nursing Home joined us. We remembered especially in our prayers Fr Martin Rossman, a member of our group, who is sick.
The group included people with a wide range of medical and pastoral expertise, nurses, doctors, consultants, hospital chaplains and carers. Several of the Sisters were able to join the group, and it was a particular pleasure this year that staff from our Nursing Home were able to participate, including the Manager, Elizabeth. As usual, the atmosphere was very special: old friendships were renewed and new ones developed within a lovely combination of serious conversation, prayer and reflection and ebullient fun, with the log fire in the Hall acting as an appropriately symbolic focus.

The afternoons and evenings provided time to visit Grange and Cartmel, to relax and be quiet, to engage in some highly competitive games of table tennis and to partake of tea and home-made cakes.

On our free day, the more intrepid members of the group went on a very wet and muddy walk around the local coast.

Free time and meals both allowed us to continue the discussions of issues raised in the talks. In the evenings, we had Compline with the Community around the fire. On the last evening we invited members of the Boarbank Community to join us for a buffet and continuing conversation. It was a great joy to welcome back so many old friends to these weeks, and to welcome several new participants. We hope and pray that they will be rested and restored for the difficult and valuable work that they do, and that the friendships fostered here may continue to support them through the year.

Photos from the week can be found HERE
Very many thanks to John for taking these and putting them together.