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Plain speaking from Sister

17 January 2012

An unchurchy nun, says Lavinia Byrne


The Road Home: My journey
Sister Stanislaus Kennedy

Transworld Ireland £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THE photos in this book say it all. Sister Stanislaus Kennedy of the Irish Sisters of Charity has gleaming, zealous eyes, the eyes of a campaigner. Her track record is impressive; so she is pictured with Dr Garret FitzGerald, President Mary Robinson, President Mary McAleese — who writes a foreword to her book — and with Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche.

Why? Because this passionate nun has, all her life, been driven by the vision of an Ireland in which social justice should bring an end to all inequality. An advocate, she has not limited her action to words. Rather, inspired by Mary Aiken­head, the founder of her congrega­tion, she opted at the age of 18 to act “with compassion and without sentimentality” to serve the poor.

Her achievements are consider­able: she describes how she founded Focus Ireland, serving the homeless; Young Social Innovators, providing social education for 15- to 18-year-olds; and, anticipating a new devel­op­ment in the life of her country, the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Her insights are pithy: “Health care is an essential service, not a com­mer­cial product;” “Homelessness should be a stage, and not a state.” Her status is considerable, as she has galvanised both church and state resources to meet a variety of social needs.

She must surely have made enemies, but is generous enough not to use her book to name and shame them. With institutions she is forthright: “The Church has always been inward-looking, and a celibate and hierarchical clergy support that inwardness.” But with her support­ers, notably her congregation — who have bankrolled many of her undertakings — and with her first mentor, the Bishop of Ossory, Dr Peter Birch, she is unfailingly gracious.

Now aged 72, she is devoting her considerable energies to setting up a spiritual centre, The Sanctuary, at Stanhope Street in Dublin. So the journey comes full circle and returns to the kind of safe home of her childhood on the Dingle Peninsula which she described so lyrically in the early pages of her book.

Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.

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