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Sister Eileen Allen’s Vocation Story

Sr EileenIn February 1948 I left Dunardagh for my first appointment to Tollcross, Glasgow, Scotland. I was stunned at the time because I knew I would not see my mother for a long time. Consequently, my brother was the only member of the family I met in those days. Six whole months of longing and sadness was my lot – trying to communicate with profoundly deaf children. I hadn’t a clue how to cope or how to understand the children. I came to the conclusion I had no vocation and told my Sister Servant (the sister in charge) who advised me to talk to Father Chris O’ Leary. When I related my long sob story he said if I left the community it would be my regret for the rest of my life but advised me to write to my Directress (the person in charge of initial formation). This I did and within five days a letter came to say I was changed to Boston Spa. At that time in the 1940’s there was no consultation and one went where one was sent.

As I travelled on the bus from Leeds to Boston Spa, I admired the country side where the green fields were evident. Almost immediately the lump that was in my chest (of longing and sadness) for the past 6 months literally dropped. It was my first real God experience to which I said – maybe I will settle here.

The community of 16 Sisters were most welcoming and helpful. Sister Brunicardi was the Sister Servant and she was very kind. Sister Margaret Gethim was head of the school and Sister Teresa McCarthy helped me with the communication problems I encountered in communicating with the deaf children. 

Boys and girls were kept religiously separated and only saw each other in the Chapel when they attended Mass 3 times a week. A certain amount of rivalry existed between the boys’ side and the girls’ side as this being the reference to the 2 departments. The method of language taught in the school was oralism (which was speech) and this was the method to be adopted, in preference to sign language.

The children had their individual ways of coping. For example, if a child’s companion didn’t understand the message the teacher was communicating, they helped each other through finger spelling under the desks. No doubt many teachers turned a blind eye to all this! This was my first experience of dealing with children away from home. I can still see the desk I sat on as I supervised the evening activities and games .The term used for supervision was ‘on guard.’ Many of the children stood around me talking of home, family relationships and the misunderstandings that occurred. Some were very poor, others not so and the only helps parents received was when they arrived at the school. Social workers and other professionals were a scarce commodity in those days and most had little or no understanding of the problem of deafness.

As Saint John’s was the only Catholic Deaf School in England the children went home on holidays 3 times a year. This gave the Sisters a welcome break, more time for each other with much relaxation and many laughs. Though I still missed my mother and home, I became more resigned and settled in my vocation. In spite of ups and downs, I have many happy memories of my years of community living in this atmosphere.

My next appointment was to a boy’s home in Tudhoe, Co. Durham where the boy’s age range was 12 – 16 years. These lads were no angels. I learned a new activity from them – shoplifting. The local shopkeepers complained about missing goods. On one occasion, I assembled the boys in our day room, told them the story, asked them to go to their lockers and produce these goods. There was silence for about 10 minutes and again I repeated my request. Can you imagine my surprise when one lad (one of three brothers) went to the furthest corner of the room, lifted up the carpet, then the floor boards and from there he produced most of the missing goods? How I refrained from smiling I will never know. My stay in Tudhoe was short lived as Sister Catherine Barrett, (Provincial) suggested I do a training course in Social Work to which I replied that I would not be capable of it. She suggested I would write to 5 different colleges and if they all turned me down she would believe them! In response, 3 colleges accepted me and subsequently I went to North Western Polyleech in London for 3 years where I received great training. It was here I built up my confidence for the 40 years I would spend in social work with the deaf community, mostly in Newcastle.

Eventually I retired in 1991 and got a year’s break in Ireland. This was a welcome treat enjoying life with family and friends. On return to England I was placed in Dover and was invited by the Parish Priest of Folkestone to do some parish work there which lasted 4 years. It was during that time that I made up my mind to return to Ireland for the remainder of my life. I am now placed in Dunardagh where I am blissfully happy, surrounded by lots of green areas to walk about each day.

Sr Eileen article




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