Focus Ireland founder Sr Stanislaus Kennedy realised she had to slow down after she was hit by a virus. But she doesn’t find being mindful easy.
LONG before the trend for naming celebrities by their first name only, existed, the visionary and social innovator, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy had become famous in Ireland as simply Sr Stan — a highly vocal nun who was willing to roll up her sleeves on behalf of the underprivileged in our society.
Her name may have changed when she joined the Sisters of Charity congregation as 18-year-old Treasa Kennedy but the passionate fire within her then, to help the poor, still burns bright in the 75-year-old woman who celebrated her birthday two weeks ago.
It’s been an extraordinary path from the day she left home as a teenager in Lispole on the Dingle Peninsula. Her 20s and 30s were spent under the guidance of Bishop Peter Birch, developing the Kilkenny Social Services, which became a blueprint of community care in this country.
Then in her mid 40s she co-founded the biggest voluntary organisation in the country for homelessness, Focus Ireland.
At age 59, when a lot of people begin to look back at what they have achieved, she was still moving forward, establishing The Sanctuary, a spiritual and meditation centre in the heart of Dublin, where people could find stillness.
Some years before, during the menopausal transition, this firebrand of a woman was hit by a virus: “I got sicker and sicker and I was out of work totally for two months. It was a very vulnerable place to be in. You think ‘will I ever get better?’ I realised I couldn’t keep going at the speed I was going unless I had inner resources.”
She was meeting “highly committed, highly idealistic people” and she realised that like her, when they saw the picture of poverty and homelessness they “either caved in or went for it with energy and drive”. They too like her, needed to find “strength within themselves.”
This realisation lead to the setting up of The Sanctuary because “everybody needs space” and “so that we could have time for meditation and silence as well as the doing.”
The “doing” didn’t stop either; at age 62 she established the Immigration Council of Ireland (ICI), an independent national organisation promoting the rights of immigrants, and the Young Social Innovators, (YSI) a showcase offering students opportunities to become involved in social issues.
Thirteen years on, Stan is aware of having less energy: “Ageing is about having a different kind of presence; I’m not active like I was; I have to slow down, though not stop.” Now she has more of an executive role in The Sanctuary, the ICI and the YSI and is involved in training and in teaching meditation.
There is a synergy daily between meditation practice (her inner space) and activity (her outer social projects) which is the rhythm of her life now.
“I try to be as present as I can but to tell you the truth I’m extremely active so it’s not easy to become a mindful person – it’s always a challenge. I use the breath a lot. Meditation gives clarity of mind and wisdom – that sacred space. As we get older that’s very important.”
Being part of convent life means she eats well regularly with the other sisters; she takes the dog for a walk early morning and she walks to work from where she lives near Heuston Station into the inner city.
She would love to be able to age “with acceptance” – no matter what life throws up, in the present moment. “To age that way is wonderful; I aspire to it, but I’m still struggling with it.”
“As I age I do become more reflective though, considering the meaning of what I do each day. I hope if I become less active — you see a lot of people who are sick — that I’ll still be sending good energy to people around me and the world.”
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