By Sarah Mac Donald - 03 December, 2019
Mercy nun Sr Consilio Fitzgerald, who founded Cuan Mhuire to help those with addiction problems, will receive the annual Oireachtas Human Dignity Award at a ceremony in Leinster House this Thursday.
Sr Consilio is being honoured for her decades-long work with men and women suffering from addiction. Cuan Mhuire provides addiction treatment services and residential rehabilitation to 3,000 people each year.
The Human Dignity Award is presented annually by the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group to a person or group for exemplary commitment to the promotion of human dignity.
Speaking ahead of the presentation, Ceann Comhairle and Kildare South TD, Seán Ó Fearghail said, “Sr Consilio has built something of national importance and lasting significance.”
“In her own words, Sr Consilio’s work is based on the belief that each human person ‘has eternal value’ and is capable of ‘human and spiritual wholeness’. This belief in human dignity is Sr Consilio’s ‘secret recipe’. It’s what has transformed countless lives and it’s why Sr Consilio and Cuan Mhuire are worthy recipients of the 5th Human Dignity Award,” he said.
The award comes 53 years after Sr Consilio began her work from a small room in the Convent of Mercy in Athy.
As a young Mercy Sister, who had trained as a nurse and midwife, she was moved by the plight of the ‘men of the road’ who came to seek a night’s lodgings in St Vincent’s Hospital, Athy, where she was working.
To cope with the growing numbers seeking her assistance, she opened a facility in the Mercy convent’s dairy.
Today, there are five treatment centres around Ireland, including a women-only facility in Cork, as well as seven transition facilities throughout the country.
Cuan Mhuire is currently fundraising for a new purpose-built women’s treatment centre in Athy.
As well as the presentation in Leinster House, Sr Consilio’s Human Dignity Award will be marked by a celebratory fundraiser in support of the new centre.
The decision to make the Human Life, Human Rights and Human Dignity Award to Sr Consilio and Cuan Mhuire was proposed by Senator Rónán Mullen and agreed at the November 2019 meeting of the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group.
Paying tribute Sr Consilio, Senator Mullen said this was just the latest in a long series of awards received by the Mercy Sister and her team.
“These awards are all trying to say the same thing: ‘We value what you have done, we thank you, and we want you to keep going because your work is more important than ever.’”
“Addiction is a huge cause of suffering and injustice at individual, family and community level. Sr Consilio’s work stresses that the solution begins with respecting the individual person and building up their capacity to change and become whole again. Who will ever measure the number of lives that have been changed for the better by this woman? She and Cuan Mhuire have made an outstanding contribution to Irish life.”
Acknowledging the award, Sr Consilio noted that people at every level of society were struggling with addiction.
“We will keep going,” she said. “The challenges are great. Demand for our service far exceeds our capacity to help people. But we trust in the Lord and in the great people who support our work every day.”
Previous recipients of the Human Dignity Award are Barney Curley, founder of Direct Aid For Africa; Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals; Gina Heraty of Our Little Brothers and Sisters Orphanage in Haiti; and Br Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre.
Sr Consilio (Eileen) Fitzgerald was born and grew up on the Kerry/Cork border.
She trained as a nurse at the North Infirmary, Cork. After her training she joined the Sisters of Mercy in Athy. She later did Midwifery training at St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork.
As a young nun she worked as a nurse in St Vincent’s Hospital, Athy which was then a ‘County Home’. Here she came in contact with the ‘men of the road’ who often came for a night’s lodgings.
She was greatly moved by their struggles and came to realise that many were homeless because of addiction to alcohol.
She started Cuan Mhuire in 1966 in a room in the Convent of Mercy, Athy. In 1972, the first purpose built Cuan Mhuire was developed by Sr Consilio and the men she had helped, located on a 50 acre farm near Athy.
In 1977 a second Cuan Mhuire Centre was established in Bruree, Co Limerick and later centres were opened in Newry, Coolarne, (Co Galway) and a specialised service for women began in Cork.
In addition to the above treatment centres, Cuan Mhuire now has seven transition facilities throughout the country in Dublin, Monaghan, Galway, Limerick and Cork.
Cuan Mhuire’s distinctive and experientially-based programme is based on the belief that each human being has eternal value, is capable of wholeness in human and spiritual terms, and that there are no hopeless cases.
Cuan Mhuire recognises the innate goodness and giftedness of all who come through its doors.
Sr Consilio has received numerous awards at home and abroad for her work, including:
1975 Nurse of the Year
1996 Kerry Person of the Year
1997 Athy Person of the Year
1999 The Irish Sun Award ‘Sunshine Person of the Year’
1999 Honorary Life Membership of the Royal Dublin Society
1999 Hall of Fame Award (AIB/Kerryman)
2000 Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at the Royal College of Surgeons
2002 Honorary Fellows List Award – Waterford Institute of Technology
2002 Degree of Doctor of Laws (LLG from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council
2003 Duhallow Person of the Year
2011 Honorary MBE from Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of her lifelong work in helping individuals and families suffering from alcoholism and other addictions.
2017 Honorary Doctorate of Laws Degrees – Regis University, Greater Boston.
2019 Honoured by Kildare County Council at a special reception held at Aras Chill Dara.