On 8th September 1980, I travelled from Yeovil Junction to Guildford where a Catholic sister met me and drove me to Cranleigh. It was the first day of a new life.
The previous spring, dropping out of university with depression, the world seemed to have fallen apart. The weeks and months drifted by without form or shape. Searching for opportunities proved repeatedly fruitless. Finally, there was an advertisement for Community Service Volunteers, a domestic and much less high powered counterpart to the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation. The post they provided was as an assistant houseparent at a boarding school for boys with intellectual disability run by the Roman Catholic Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary.
Arriving at the school after the drive from Guildford, I was shown into the entrance hall of the great 19th century mock Tudor building that housed the school accommodation. The superior showed me upstairs to the wing in which I would work; a group of a dozen boys were in the care of a sister and a domestic assistant.
Sister Brigid was one of the most saintly people I had ever met; her life was devoted to the care of the boys and, when not caring for them, to spending hours in the school chapel in prayer. There was never a moment of temper, rarely even a sign of tiredness. A member of her family posted to her each week the ‘Kilkenny People’, the newspaper of her home city.
Working with Irish sisters and reading the newspaper prompted a visit to Ireland the following year; a visit that was to cause an entirely unexpected future to unfold.
Returning to university in the spring of 1981, the months in Cranleigh remain firmly in the memory. The sisters were to give up running the school at the end of the summer term, each of them being dispersed to work elsewhere.
Sister Brigid came back to Ireland to work at a special school in Roscrea in Co Tipperary. We kept in regular touch and in 1984 I went to visit Roscrea. As the years passed, the contact declined to Christmas cards and then faded altogether. However, the happy days at Saint Joseph’s remained clear in the mind.
This afternoon, visiting in the parish in an area where the counties of Laois, Tipperary and Offaly meet, a lady told me she worked at Saint Anne’s in Roscrea.
“When did you start there?”
“1983 – 27 years ago”.
“Did you know a Sister Brigid?”
“Of course. I still know Sister Brigid. How would you know Sister Brigid?”
“Sister Brigid is probably the reason I’m here today, I’ll explain . . .”
In an unlikely corner of Ireland there was an unlikely closing of an unlikely circle. Fate sometimes has a neatness about it.