Surprise celebration of Sr Stan’s charity work draws a crowd

Nun made ‘huge commitment to use the self in the service of others’, says Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese described St Stan as a “mentor, friend and encourager”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Mary McAleese described St Stan as a “mentor, friend and encourager”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


More than 200 invited guests gathered at City Hall in Dublin on Thursday evening to celebrate the work of social innovator Sr Stanislaus Kennedy.

Tributes to Sr Stan, who has been involved in social development in Ireland for more than 30 years, were led by former president Mary McAleese, who described her as a “mentor, friend and encourager”.

She told guests at the surprise event that Sr Stan, who has been a member of the congregation of Religious Sisters of Charity since 1958, was in Kerry at the age of almost 18 and didn’t know what to do with her life.

“Strange that this woman who is so focused in her life, who set up such extraordinary organisations like Focus Ireland, should have at that time, in her own view, lacked focus,” Dr McAleese said.

“I’d say it was the last day of her life that she lacked focus, because what we know of her tells us of someone who, from the beginning of adulthood, made a huge commitment to use the self in the service of others.”

She said everyone in the room had been blessed in their life to have known Sr Stan, to have watched and to have learned from her. “And most importantly, [blessed] to be here tonight when we gather in celebration, a magical celebration of a wonderful, magical life,” Dr McAleese said.

Shocking intro

Guests at the event included former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, former tánaiste Joan Burton and Senator David Norris.

Former model Grace O’Shaughnessy, presenter Gay Byrne and his wife, Kathleen Watkins, businesswoman Norma Smurfit and chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell were also in attendance.

Members of Sr Stan’s extended family were present, as were representatives from four organisations she established: Focus Ireland, Young Social Innovators, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and The Sanctuary.

Sr Stan, who turns 80 next year, looked shocked when she entered City Hall and realised the event was to celebrate her work. Prolonged clapping and cheering erupted as she walked up the aisle between the rows of guests, greeting friends.

Master of ceremonies Denise Charlton, former chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said the nun was “a little embarrassed”.

She told those gathered that the guest of honour had thought she was coming to an event hosted by the council at which she would have to introduce Dr McAleese, who was giving a speech.

“I suspect a few of us will be killed later,” she said.