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20 01, 2015

Sr. Maeve McMahon speaks about her work in JUST (Jesuit University Support and Training Centre

2023-12-01T14:51:41+00:00January 20, 2015|Dominican News, Ireland, News, Uncategorized|

The Jesuit University Support and Training centre in Ballymun or JUST as it is more widely known was recently visited by six executives from the Higher Education Authority.  Invited by the Director of the Centre, Dr Kevin O’Higgins, following the recent publication of the report on access to education in disadvantaged areas, the executives wanted to hear how this Centre, which was opened in 2006 has managed in less than ten years to increase three fold (close to 10%) the numbers of local residents enrolled in third level programmes.

JUST which is located in the local Jobs Centre in Ballymun is in touch with the local community and its formula for success is that the volunteer staff, many of whom are retired teachers, offer a range of supports to those who wish to attend third level but also through supportive one to one relationships with the students already in enrolled in third level and throughout the years of their studies.

Sr Maeve McMahon OP joined the Centre in 2007.  As a Dominican and retired school Principal of St Leo the Great in New Orleans she is aware of how structural support in education is vital in disadvantaged areas to foster an interest in further education.  She believes that the “one to one relationship is very important to assist students with what can sometimes be a daunting process of entering third level”.

The JUST centre now has eight individuals working there, many of whom are Jesuits but all of whom have education experience either in 2nd or 3rd level.  It was started by the Jesuits who have a long history in Ballymun.   Sr Maeve feels that it also marries very well with the Dominican charism and approach to education, which sees the blend of seeking education and truth as a means of liberation.  So much so that the Dominican Sisters Cabra have committed an education fund to JUST. Sr Maeve has worked with wonderful people during her time there.  Starting out with 20 students, the Centre now has 100 and has supported 300 since its inception.  It has supported five young people who are pursuing PhDs and many others pursuing Mas.  The rest are preparing for or participating in undergraduate courses.

She believes that access programmes in the major Universities have been vital but often the students also need support such as assistance with note taking and essay writing and this is where JUST plays an important role.  She explains that many of her students have come from families that have been affected by addiction and for this reason may also require support with other personal development skills to cope in difficult family situations.  She also helps many to connect with their spiritual side.   JUST also aims to address the general educational deficit of many students from an area like Ballymun who have never experienced an art gallery or cultural institution.  The centre facilitates cultural outings and also offers regular evening classes on diverse topics like philosophy and psychology.

Sr Maeve explains that “all human beings need to be feel that they are valued and need to be seen and heard” and that in Ireland we have failed as a nation because we have not honoured these basic Christian values.

Dr Kevin O’Higgins has asked the question of how the success of this programme can be replicated elsehwhere? The centre, because it relies predominantly on volunteers and rents inexpensive facilities, has neither sought nor received state funding.   And this is the conversation that Dr O’Higgins has commenced with the HEA.  The programme taps into the whole ethos of volunteering in Ireland and could be rolled out with larger volunteer organisations like the GAA or where there is a bank of retired teachers who are willing to help.

Sr Maeve believes that structurally in Ireland within the education system, we have serious problems.  She draws on a wonderful school model she has seen in the United States called the Cristo Rey network, which was also started by the Jesuits and is the largest network of urban high schools in the country enrolling only youth from low income families.  It offers an approach to inner-city education that equips students with the knowledge, character and skills to remove them from a cycle of poverty.  This school network now has 100% enrolment into further education and the key to its success has been 24/7 support to the students if and when they need it.    Dr Kevin O’Higgins is a strong proponent of this model and believes that it can be replicated in Ireland.

Sr Maeve does not expect JUST to expand further in terms of the number of students receiving support because of her fear that the one on one support would then be lost.  However, the overall vision is to continue to offer an opportunity to people who have found life hard to have freedom and a realisation of their own potential through education.

Sr Maeve lived through a challenging time herself in the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Kathrina which temporarily closed St Leo the Great.  She believes that life is a task master and will create its demands but it is attitude that can make a difference in attempting to make the world a better place and she has seen this spirit alive in JUST.

She also believes that every human has an inner flame and we are entitled for this inner flame to be alive so that we can all reach our full potential.  It is clear when Sr Maeve talks about her return from the United States and her chance conversation with a Jesuit about the need for volunteers in JUST, that her inner flame continues to shine brightly in the field of education.

For more information about JUST, please visit www.justballymun.org

15 01, 2015

Sr. Veronica McCabe OP speaks of her work in the community in Cherry Orchard

2023-12-01T14:44:19+00:00January 15, 2015|Dominican News, Uncategorized|

Many Dominican Sisters work in pastoral care in the community.  Sr Veronica McCabe OP is one such Sister working in Cherry Orchard.

Sr Veronica has worked in the Cherry Orchard locality for over 4 years.  She believes that having a presence in the community and relating to local people is the most important thing that the Dominican Sisters can do in the area.

There are now two Dominican Sisters living in Cherry Orchard in Dublin 10 which is classed as high on the disadvantage scale.  The unemployment level amongst the youth of the area is one of the highest in the country and the community has been adversely affected by anti-social behaviour.  Sr Veronica’s work is as part of the Parish team which consists of three priests, a lay pastoral worker and herself.  In her role, she is responsible for co-ordinating liturgical ministries and is also responsible for adult faith development and community outreach through pastoral visitation. She believes that Faith is very strong amongst the community.  She runs Meditation & Gospel Reflection groups and looks after the parish newsletter and website.

Pastoral visitation gives Sr Veronica the opportunity to meet and establish relationships with local people who may have been affected by bereavement, illness or who in general are finding life hard and who can benefit from having the opportunity to talk through their circumstances with someone who cares and can offer support.  She explains that she wants to be close to the source of community problems and issues and has much experience of this type of work.

Prior to completing a Masters in Pastoral Ministry in New York over an 18 month period, she worked in the St Dominic’s parish in Tallaght as a remedial teacher in a local boy’s school and, subsequent to the period in New York, as a pastoral worker in the same parish.   In these roles she provided support to many local families. A particular aspect of her work was in regular visits to the local people who were in prison in Dublin and Portlaoise and in linking-in with their families.  She has also participated in a helpline for families of prisoners for a period.  While a member of the Congregation leadership team she has travelled extensively in South America and South Africa and has been horrified by the many injustices she has seen but has also witnessed the strength and resilience of the people she has met.

Sadly, efforts to establish local community groups in Cherry Orchard have been a challenge.  Sr Veronica believes that this is because there is now a strong level of disillusionment amongst residents who have turned away from community groups. The locals have seen little or no improvement in area over the last number of years and therefore encouraging them to attend groups can be difficult.   However, Sr Veronica is hopeful that a recently established group which is a restorative forum based on a similar approach to restorative justice can make a difference.

This Forum is unique in that it involves a new way of consulting with local people. It focuses on ensuring that all voices are heard so that issues facing the community can be fully understood by all and will be facilitated by Jim McGrath who specialises in this area. It is a way that all local organisations can get together in partnership with the people they are working with and that everyone in the room will have an equal voice.  Some of the issues that will be addressed by the Forum include unemployment, the local environment, anti-social behaviour and facilities and services.  Sr Veronica describes it as seeking solutions together rather than a “them and us” which has been the approach used elsewhere.

Despite the level of disillusionment, there has been some change in the area.  This includes the development of a new school, St Ultan’s, that has a care unit for babies and a homework club for older children.  It’s a unique approach and Sr Veronica believes that this too can have a positive influence across the area.  However, one of the most positive developments has been the “Bungalow” which was started by the Daughters of Charity.  It is a family resource centre and it is very much at the heart of the community.  It offers an outlet to the local community in terms of personal development and various other courses and there is also a Men’s Shed group.  Outreach workers visit local households to encourage participation.

Sr Veronica takes every opportunity to be visible in the neighbourhood and gets involved in initiatives like street clean-ups. She has also organised and participated in “Embracing Inclusion” which was a six week programme designed by the Parish of the Travelling People to promote understanding between Travellers and Settled People. For six weeks about 40 people met in the local church and shared experiences and quickly realised that they are all coping with the same “life” issues such as raising children, coping with bereavement and illness.  The group explored how they could cope with difference and how prejudice affects all.  Since then some of the group travelled on a pilgrimage with the Parish of the Travelling People to St Winifred’s Well in Wales and some local Travellers have become involved in Cherry Orchard church as Readers and Eucharistic Ministers.

In her role, she assists families with preparation for communion and confirmation and has also been involved in facilitating pre-marriage courses.  She facilitates the monthly meetings of the Parish Pastoral Council.  In the future, she would rather see children opt to undertake the sacraments as she believes the present system is often a charade and little more than a social occasion for many families.

One of Sr Veronica’s strong interests is in promoting the role of women in the church.  She sees women as having a very second-class role in practically every aspect of church life and ministry and wants to see major and urgent change in this area.

Sr Veronica is inspired by people like Nelson Mandela and Oscar Romero because they have overcome great difficulties in their own lives.  St Catherine of Siena and St Dominic have inspired her to follow the Dominican way while Jesus Christ is the source of happiness and contentment that keeps her going.  Sr Veronica is a keen tweeter and her many thoughts of the day can provide inspiration to all of us.  Her twitter name is @vmccabe.


3 10, 2014

Interview with Sr. Martine Pillay OP

2023-12-01T14:54:45+00:00October 3, 2014|Dominican News, News, South Africa|

Twenty years on from the end of Apartheid in South Africa,  Sr Martine Pillay recounts the day she cast her vote in Middle Abbey St and how life has changed since

Sr Martine Pillay, a Dominican Sister based in South Africa recalls meeting a man on a plane who explained to her that he lived in fear of others because he lived separately from those around him. She has never forgotten that man. 1994 was a year full of promise in South Africa because it brought an end to this divide. People had lived in ignorance of one another for too long. The end of the apartheid regime meant that children could now go to the schools of their parents’ choice. They could go to the cinema and travel on any bus they wished.Martine Pillay

With this, came the opportunity to vote and Sr Martine Pillay who was based in Ireland at the time cast her vote in the South African elections at a polling station at the ATGWU district office in Dublin’s Middle Abbey St, where many anti-apartheid demonstrations had been previously held. She describes voting as a feeling of being baptised and cleansed. On this day, about fifteen Irish Sisters who had been based in South Africa at some point also voted, for them it was a symbolic act in support of a non-racial democracy. They were pictured on the front page of the Irish Times.

But how much has changed in South Africa over this period? During Apartheid, jobs were reserved for white people. Sr Martine explains, “it was always a white person managing a black person working.” After returning from Ireland to South Africa in 1999, the first thing she observed, was a white person cleaning the plane. However, other change has been much more gradual to take hold and that “is the change of attitude and heart”. For so long, people had internalised what apartheid was teaching and they began to believe it. “The change of attitude is still at a very slow pace. While blacks and whites can now live in the same areas, many people still have to grapple with the untruths created by Apartheid.”

The biggest division now in South Africa is the divide between rich and poor, whether black or white. After 1994, people began to migrate into urban areas but they didn’t have the means to build houses. The housing situation remains dire. There is a continued lack of suitable housing due to worsening unemployment. In some of the remaining Dominican schools now, teachers and older children are involved in “Habitat for Humanity” an organisation which supports volunteers to build homes for the very poor. This initiative also builds awareness amongst children.

Sr Martine explains that with the ending of Apartheid, new injustices have emerged. Poor black people have now been joined by a growing number of impoverished white people. “These are the group who are now forgotten within South African society,” she says.
There is also evident nepotism across the public service, with many people employed because of their connections but who lack the basic qualifications and experience to do the job. A glaring example of this was the man who did the signing for the Deaf at Nelson Mandella’s funeral. This caused huge embarrassment to South Africa. Overall, the situation is causing unease. People are not receiving an adequate level of public services and Sr Martine believes that this will cause increased instability in the country.

This has also crept into the third level education system. Education has become a problem area for the government, not only have they had to make education available to all, but they have also had to break down apartheid in education. The introduction of quotas in Universities has caused its own problems, resulting in students gaining access into third level, again without adequate qualifications.
A huge change in South Africa has also been the opening of borders to other Africans. Many of these people are entrepreneurs who have set up small businesses to survive. This however has caused a certain level of jealousy amongst native South Africans and has resulted in friction between different groups.

The Cabra Dominicans have a strong legacy in South Africa, having committed their lives to setting up hundreds of schools and educating thousands of children. Last year was the celebration of 150 years in the region. While many of the Sisters are now retired, their legacy is strong with the Dominican ethos evident across these schools. The Sisters are ensuring now that they continue to make their presence felt in the education field, having secured vacant convent buildings and land for education purposes and also by making bursaries available for teachers. They are also involved in the area of child safeguarding by holding w orkshops for the staff and governing bodies.

Other Sisters are involved in the alleviation of the effects of HIV and Aids by raising funds for child headed households. Others are involved in work in the parish and in preparing families for baptism and communion. The older Sisters are committed to prayer, keeping them aware of what is happening in the outside world is important so they can pray to alleviate the hardships, especially with the current situation in Iraq.
Martine herself knew she wanted to become a nun from an early age, converting to Catholicism when she was 14. The rest of her family followed suit. Sr Martine taught all her life apart from when she served on the region council in South Africa. She was also the first non-Irish person on the general Council.

Like all other regions, the Sisters are experiencing decreasing numbers in South Africa. However Martine believes that God is perhaps calling for another way of serving the needs in society. Sr Martine says that living in a convent is different now. She says that her life as a Sister has resulted in her living with the most fantastic women that she would never have met had she not become a nun.


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