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.