Dear Sister Berchmans,
HOW lovely it was for me to get that cup of tea and slice of toast on those miserable Monday mornings in the early 1980s. There you were in the dining room at St Joseph’s School for Blind Boys, Drumcondra, cheerfully dishing out the breakfasts to all the lads.
My son Stuart and I usually arrived shortly after 8am, having driven from Athy. No motorways in those days, so the journey was long. We usually left at 6.30am. Stuart had started at St Joseph’s in September 1980, aged just six. It broke our hearts to send him away to boarding school, but in those days we had no choice. He was totally blind and, apart from a visiting teacher for a few hours on a Monday, there was nothing more that could be offered at a local primary school.
So there we were, either my husband or myself, travelling to Drumcondra every Monday and Friday. You see, we promised Stuart that he would never have to spend a weekend away from home — and he didn’t! He was way ahead of his time (remember Pope John Paul II) kissing the stairs, his bedroom door and the hall door before getting into the car on a Monday morning. The most frequently asked question on these Monday morning journeys was “Where are we now?” and the little voice would get more anxious the nearer we got to the city.
But then, at St Joseph’s, there was you, Sister Berchmans, with your lovely smile, your white apron and the offer “You’ll have a cup of tea, Mrs Lawler” (always the formal address). Stuart would go to join his friends at another table and I would have a little chat with you.
Then it was time to leave and it always broke my heart, even though I knew that Stuart was so well looked after with such great kindness from you and from Sister Mechtilde, who was in charge of the dormitories. At night in bed, Stuart used to listen to our local Kildare radio, loving especially the ads for businesses in Athy as he felt closer to home when hearing those familiar places.
Off I would go then to start my journey back to Athy, most of the time blinded by tears for the first few miles, but then, when I thought of the alternative of Stuart being left in a corner at home, I would cop myself on and realise how fortunate we were to have someone like you, Sister Berchmans, there every Monday morning.
Thank you for your kindness and your understanding. You will be pleased to know that Stuart is now Rehabilitation Centre Manager with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) and travels all over the world without a bother. He was also the first blind student to study music at University College Cork and I know this will bring a smile to your face as you often hummed your way around the dining room on those Monday mornings.
Go raibh mile maith agat, dearest Sister Berchmans.
Kay Lawler, Co Kildare