"To enter the Cenacle is to enter the heart." - Pope Paul VI

THE FIRST CENACLE was the Upper Room where Mary and the disciples waited and prayed after the Ascension for the coming of the Holy Spirit. There "with one mind they persevered in prayerwith the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14).

The Religious of the Cenacle is an international congregation whose spirit reflects that of the first Cenacle. Its mission is to assist men and women to awaken and deepen their faith through retreats and spiritual direction. The sisters are also involved in the biblical apostolate, psychospiritual formation, parish animation, religious education and pastoral counselling.

The Cenacle Sisters was founded in La Louvesc, France, in 1826 by St. Therese Couderc and Father Stephen Terme. As a parish priest and a missionary, Father Terme had the gift of touching hearts and many who encountered him "caught" his love for God. Therese Couderc joined his community of sisters which was ministering in the Alps.

Father Terme was particularly concerned about the physical and spiritual welfare of the women staying in the inns in the Ardeche mountains while on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. John Francis Regis.

Accompanied by Sister Therese, Father Terme set up a hostel to provide them a safe resting place. Over time, the hostel became known as a welcoming haven for women. A realisation that these women needed prayer and spiritual guidance to prepare them for the remainder of their pilgrimage led to the building of the first Cenacle Retreat House. Thus began the ministry of helping people awaken and deepen their faith and to make Jesus known and loved.

After the death of Father Terme, Sister Therese continued the ministry. Sister Therese died in 1885 and was canonised in 1970. Today there are around 500 Cenacle sisters in 17 nations.

"The Cenacle is no longer just a room, it is evocative of the heart's journey through fear and loss, to courage and discipleship, love and mission."

Left, St. Therese Coudere (1805-1885)

The Cenacle Sisters, as they are popularly known, have just completed a year-long celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of their co-foundress St. Therese Coudere.

Top, Sister Mel R. Benedictos (right in photo) shares the household chores with Sister Marido Marco.

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Cenacle Sisters in Singapore

Sister Hazel B. Suarez smiles for the camera.TODAY THERE ARE four Cenacle Sisters in Singapore including Sister Francisca. The others are Filipinas, Sister Hazel B. Suarez and Sister Mel R. Benedictos, and French Sister Marido Marco.

In Singapore, the sisters' main ministry is in retreat and spiritual direction based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. They also collaborate with priests and other religious; serve parishes in formation work; and minister to the migrant community, the Catholic Centre, the Singapore Pastoral Institute and the Life Direction Team. The sisters also provide their spiritual direction ministry to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar.

"It's a ministry of listening - one ear to the retreatant or directee and the other ear to the Spirit," Sister Francisca shares. "So our life of prayer is very important." She describes their spirituality as Ignatian and Pentecostal, one of openness and surrender to God, especially of waiting in prayerful expectation upon the Spirit, just like Our Lady in the Cenacle.

When she is asked to describe a typical day, Sister Francisca smiles and replies that there is no typical day. Although each sister has her own agenda for the day, the community tries to come together for common prayers and meals. The sisters take turns to cook and everyone gets to enjoy a variety of dishes. For recreation, the sisters watch TV or go occasionally to the cinema.

Sister Francisca enjoys walking around town and meeting friends. "Our community is very open and welcoming. People come by and we just sit down and have a chat," she shares. The sisters in Singapore do not wear a habit and this could be one reason why many laypersons are at ease with them.

Sister Francisca says, "It is a good thing because people see us as human beings rather than the 'holy nun', and are more open to share with us." The sisters' convent, aptly called The Cenacle, is located at 47 Jurong West, Street 42. The Cenacle hosts an Open House every third Sunday of the month, and all are welcome. For inquiries on vocation, spiritual direction or retreats call 6565 2895, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit http://www.cenaclephilsing.org/

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The first and only

Sister Francisca Tan is the only professed Singaporean Cenacle Sister. The cheerful sister shares the story of her calling with CatholicNews.

IN 1983 A TEAM of Cenacle Sisters and Jesuit priests from the Philippines conducted a training programme on Life Direction - helping others to deepen their faith in God through spiritual direction and retreats - at the invitaton of the Singapore Pastoral Institute, headed then by Father Nicholas Chia (now Archbishop). The team was scheduled to repeat the training in the next two years.

Francisca, then in her early thirties, was working as a supervisor in an oil rig company. She was also a catechist at her parish of St. Teresa. "During the first year that they came, I was busy bringing them shopping and sightseeing," she recalls. "But in the second year, in 1984, being inquisitive, I attended my first silent retreat over a weekend." The retreat was conducted by a Cenacle sister and it made a deep impact on Francisca.

"In that retreat, I discovered nature could speak to me about God and I experienced such a personal God." In 1985 Francisca went on an eight-day retreat conducted again by a Cenacle Sister and felt called to the religious life. Yet, when Francisca's retreat director suggested that her retreat be extended to discern the call, Francisca declined. She told the retreat director she was already praying too much, Francisca laughs as she recalls the incident. But her experience of God stayed with her.

A year later, Francisca made another eight-day retreat with La Salle Brother Conleth Henry, and this time she was ready to respond to God's call. "I just wanted to seek God and (having) found a peaceful calling I found myself able to say 'Yes, if it is your will, show me your way.'"

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The Cenacle Sisters was the obvious choice but the order was not represented in Singapore and the nearest community was in the Philippines. So in December 1986, Francisca visited the sisters there and encountered a culture and lifestyle different to what she had been accustomed to. After two weeks there she returned to Singapore convinced that she "had to make the plunge."

In June 1987, Francisca left Singapore to join the Cenacle Sisters where she "encountered such a personal God, and an awakening and deepening of my faith". "I also hoped to bring back this experience to Singapore - that the people here can also open their hearts and experience a personal God," she adds.

But as time passed, she realised that she should not be fixated on Singapore. "In the religious life, you don't plan where you want to go. I told God, 'wherever you call me, I will go, to serve your people.'"

In 1997, Sister Francisca made her final profession in Singapore - ten years after she joined the Cenacle Sisters. It was also the year that the Cenacle Sisters established the order in Singapore. For several years, Archbishop Gregory Yong had been asking the sisters to open a house in Singapore but due to the lack of personnel, they were unable to. But now, with their very own Singaporean vocation, the sisters were finally able to fulfil the archbishop's request.

Right, part of Sister Francisca's mission as a Cenacle sister involves her providing spiritual direction based on the St. Ignatian spirituality. The Cenacle sisters also provide these exercises to their various retreatants.

- View the complete list of religious orders in Singapore

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