More than 200 invited guests gathered at City Hall in Dublin on Thursday 28th September to celebrate the work of social innovator Sr Stanislaus Kennedy. One of the many tributes that were given was that of Clodagh Hannigan a ‘Friend of Mary Aikenhead’. Click HERE to watch a video that captures the celebration including several of the inspiring speeches.
Below is the text of Clodagh’s tribute
Good Evening Everybody,
My name is Clodagh and I am a Befriender of Sr Stan. “Befriender of Stan” I hear you saying to yourself, but sure Sr. Stan is beloved and befriended the length and breadth of this country and far beyond! So what need has she of my befriending? You’re on the wrong track altogether of course. Sr Stan’s Befrienders are a group of volunteers which she developed in 2008, known as Friends of Mary Aikenhead.
I came across her invite to this initiative while drinking a cup of coffee in the kitchen of the Sanctuary and browsing the notice board. Sr Stan’s thinking around the Befriending group was her desire to meet a need which she identified in the immediate vicinity of the Dublin 7 area, where the Sanctuary is located – the provision of some degree of companionship to people who were readily identified as desiring such company – from clients of the original St Brendan’s Hospital, Grangegorman, who are now living with support in various houses in the area, to clients of Focus Point living beside the Sanctuary, to clients of the Phoenix Care Centre on the North Circular Road. The ask? – one hour of my time each week on either a Tuesday or Wednesday evening.
To be perfectly honest, while I was instantly drawn to the concept, I really had no idea, once I had finished my training and my Garda vetting had come through, as to what I had let myself in for. I have, like the vast majority of the Irish population, had experience around mental health issues in my own family and I happen to be a qualified Relationship Mentor.
Well, I took to the visits like a duck to water.
Interestingly, when I talk to friends and acquaintances for the first time about my befriending work, it evokes compliments. And, while I accept such compliments graciously, I am at pains to point out, every time, the piece that has been missed:
Relationship is a two-way street, and quite honestly there is never a weekly visit that I come away from, where I don’t feel that I have benefitted as much, if not more, than the residents I have spent time with. It’s a privilege.
At the Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health last week I had the opportunity to hear input from Dr Tony Bates. There was something which he said that really landed with me. I can’t quote him verbatim but rather I’ll give you the jist of what he said, or, moreover, what I heard: “ human suffering has a story”. It landed with me because I believe we all have our story, a story unique to each one of us and the key to exploring our story lies in relationship. Being brought into another’s story, as I am, while affording the utmost compassion, is an absolute privilege.
I must tell you that as part of the Befriending training the group visited the Heritage Centre in Harold’s Cross, dedicated to the now Venerable Mary Aikenhead, founder of the Sisters of Charity. To be perfectly honest I was somewhat sceptical before the visit. It turned out to be a very pleasant evening, but it was the conclusion that I arrived at when I later reflected on the visit that was a revelation to me.
You see, having read Sr Stan’s book, ”The Road Home”, I had formed the impression that, at times, travelling that road on her unrelenting quest for social justice, her religious community viewed her as somewhat deviating from their ethos. In an extract from her book, and I quote: “In fact I was always getting into big trouble right through the 1970s and into the late 1980s for expressing my views on social issues”.
The stark revelation for me when I reflected on that visit to the Heritage Centre was, that far from deviating from the ethos of her community, Sr. Stan, through the Befriending initiative, was actually walking in the very footsteps of Mary Aikenhead – right down to the actual location that Mary Aikenhead had begun her own mission – the Dublin 7 area – where she had responded just like Sr Stan to the needs of the people of her time, whatever those needs may be. What an Irony!
And let me just draw a second analogy before I finish:
It was Culture Night last Friday and on the website the opening quote summarising a visit to the Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre read as follows:
“Upon hearing of the death of Mary Aikenhead, a tenant farmer remarked, "Ireland's poor have lost their greatest friend". For those of you who may not know, it was not so long ago that Sr Stan was overwhelmingly voted Ireland’s National Treasure on the Ray D’arcy show – National Treasure - Ireland’s greatest friend.
I feel immense humility and gratitude for being given this opportunity to tell you some of my story of Befriending this evening, but moreover to be here celebrating this wonderful woman with you.
Thank you for listening.