By Sarah Mac Donald - 29 November, 2016
RTE’s ‘Would You Believe’ television programme began a new series on Sunday with a profile of Sr Consilio Fitzgerald, founder of Cuan Mhuire, the rehabilitation centres helping those caught up in addiction.
Cuan Mhuire this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary, while Sr Consilio also marked her own personal milestone when she turned 80.
In the 1960s, the Mercy nun had trained as a nurse and midwife and was stationed at St Vincent’s Hospital in Athy, Co Kildare when she began to meet with a number of men who were alcoholics and had nowhere to stay and no one to help them deal with their alcoholism.
Since it was founded in 1966, Cuan Mhuire has grown and now encompasses five residential centres, three residential transition houses and two training centres both north and south of the border.
In the programme, well-known broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan described Sr Consilio Fitzgerald at Cuan Mhuire’s 50th anniversary celebration as “a living saint”.
It all began in what was an old dairy behind the Mercy Convent in Athy. Then Sr Consilio bought a farm up the road from the convent and this was what became Cuan Mhuire – the Harbour of Mary.
Today on any given night over 600 people avail of the services of Cuan Mhuire all over the country.
According to some former residents, the secret of Cuan Mhuire’s success is Sr Consilio herself and her simple spirituality.
She told WYB that when she first men the “men of the road” back in the 1960s, she “felt they were lost”.
She used to visit them at the end of the day and sit by the fire with them.
“I thought to myself, ‘Some day, somewhere, somehow I’ll have a place that these lads can call home’ – because I thought if they could have a place to call home and go out in the morning to do a day’s work and come home at night to a fire and a meal and someone to love them and someone to welcome them home …” She said she had learnt about addiction from these men.
One man said in a recording about Cuan Mhuire dating from the 1970s, “I’ll be forever in her [Sr Consilio’s] debt because she has lifted me literally out of the gutter.”
Another supporter of the work of Cuan Mhuire, Connie Byrne, explained how Sr Consilio lives by the saying, ‘Our Lady will provide’.
“She believes that by creating a family hub it allows people to rebuild themselves. She has created in all of these houses homes that people who are fractured can come to and rebuild themselves.”
Nuala McCormick explained how at the age of 12 she was addicted and overdosing on drugs and alcohol and wanted to die. “Somebody must have been looking after me up there because I shouldn’t be alive today.”
According to Sr Consilio, “precious people” for one reason or another are using drugs and alcohol “to kill the pain they are living in”.
PJ Jones explained how he tried to take his life two or three times and ended up in St Pat’s.
“I couldn’t take the pain any more. And I was scared to tell anybody. Sr Consilio noticed me. She was walking with her dog and her dog barked at me. She looked straight into my eyes and she put her arm around me and said ‘It will be ok, you are in the right place now’.”
This ability to see the person behind the pain, and reach out, is what enables Sr Consilio to make those who come to Cuan Mhuire grasp their inner worth.
“There is a love there that she came to this world with – a compassion,” according to Connie Byrne.
For Sr Consilio, it is about seeing Jesus in everyone who walks into Cuan Mhuire.
“For me, to welcome anyone through the door, it is the very same as welcoming Jesus Christ himself. That is what he said, ‘As long as you did it to the least of these my brothers you are doing it to me.’ I find it easier to see Him in that person than I do when I go to Holy Communion.”
She added that what people who are in addiction need most is to see their own goodness. “To love themselves. The healing power of love is enormous.”
You can see the full programme here: http://bit.ly/2fGc8SC.