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A holistic understanding of ageing

Catherine McCann is an 84-year-old physiotherapist, counsellor and spiritual director who worked closely with the late Charlie O’Connor SJ in the Holy Land conducting retreats. She runs the Shekina Sculpture Garden in County Wicklow providing a space for reflective days and celebrations. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Catherine talks about her life and her latest book Love Life: A holistic understanding of ageing in which she hopes to give older people the tools to manage their ageing better.

Catherine speaks of the challenges in growing older including the temptation to get centred on oneself and to have a “poor me” attitude to life. In such cases, she advises older people to “fight that tooth and nail”. “I think the most important thing is that you remain a contributor,” she says. And this can be achieved through the smallest gestures such as when an older person gives a warm smile to those who are caring for them.

Regarding her exciting religious life, she says: “I don’t think I’d be as content and as challenged as I am if I didn’t have my Catholic faith”. She recognises the social benefit of Mass and the importance of “one’s own inner life” while at the same time not being limited by church realities. She discusses the topic of wellbeing in her book which encompasses intellectual, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

On her 80th birthday, she travelled to India to learn about Hinduism where she developed an understanding of the religion’s one God which is shared with Christianity. She also has an understanding of Buddhism, and she views the spiritual practice of letting go as vital for older people who experience the deaths of their family and friends. Now, Catherine cares for the Shekina Sculpture Garden where she invites visitors to use their senses and to really think about them through experiencing her plants, water features, and abstract sculptures.

In her book, she wants to send the message that ageing is a positive and satisfying experience once you have the tools to manage it. She herself is thankful for the life that she has lived and looks forward to the future, with a resounding “Yes to life!”