Nuns have undertaken courageous work


Sir, – About 25 years ago I spent some time in Ethiopia assisting an order of nuns, the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul, to map out and implement plans to wind-down their famine relief operations and return to the work they had been doing before the catastrophic famine of the 1980s prompted them to switch their energies to dealing with the dire emergency.

Until the famine hit, they had been involved in healthcare, the empowerment of women and other programmes focused on development.

It was a privilege and an inspiration to work with these women. I recall one sister who had left a remote village, where she had stood in solidarity with the local people as bombs rained down, and had walked for 11 days to take part in planning the transition back to a focus on development.

I met another sister who was in charge of a refugee camp that housed 300,000 people and another sister, from Ireland, who had learned local languages and acted as a peacemaker between warring factions.

I have worked as a consultant to numerous orders of religious sisters and, as Sr. Una Agnew pointed out in yesterday’s Irish Timesin her letter (May 19th), in practically all cases the task was to “discern how should we respond to the signs of the times”, meaning what are the most pressing contemporary needs of humanity that we should respond to. And so today, though their resources are dwindling and their average age is most likely the late-sixties, you will find these smart, enlightened, intrepid women in the vanguard, in Ireland and elsewhere, caring for refugees and asylum seekers, providing homes for homeless families, tackling human trafficking, helping alcoholics to recover or building up the hospice movement.

In 40 years of consulting on organisation change in all sectors and around the world, these nuns whom I experienced for the most part as radical women, have been more courageous than any other group I encountered in facing up to where they had gone wrong, if such was the case, and adapting to the “signs of the times” .

I thoroughly agree with Sr Agnew that nuns do not deserve the casual derision that rains down on them in the media. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.