THEN & NOW Hitting the heights to boost hospice
Sister Catherine’s charity adventures
When raising money for a good cause, many supporters may think of traditional methods like sponsored walks or bake sales – but the most famous fundraiser for St Andrew’s Hospice prefers to take on challenges on a bigger scale.
The Advertiser told in September 2004 how Sister Catherine Egan was planning to help the Airdrie charity by climbing Ben Nevis, spending a night on an oil rig and trekking to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, all in the space of just six weeks.
It was the latest instalment in an unusual and impressive list of fundraising ventures by the “daredevil nun”, then the hospice’s chief executive – which had also already included a parachute jump, a double paragliding trip and a swim with sharks.
She recalled: “I have lovely memories from all these challenges; it was great to take on these new adventures, and they raised awareness. Visiting the oil rig was great fun; there was a cheque to pick up and I thought it sounded really interesting to go there.
“Climbing Ben Nevis was wonderful too, and Machu Picchu was a fant a s t i c experience; the Peruvian people were just amazing.
“I can remember setting out one day when we were all prepared for a day of hard graft and walking; we passed a little girl taking sheep up the hill, strolling through with ease in her sandals!
“The best thing about all of them has been meeting the lovely people who take part, give up holiday time and raise funds, often because they’ve known somebody who was in the hospice’s care. It’s so touching and they’re just wonderful.”
Sister Catherine was already an adventure veteran when she took on the 2004 triple challenge, having raised thousands by adding the fundraising challenges to her role as matron, which she held from 1989 until 2005.
Now the Airdrie hospice’s director of mission since 2010, she said: “The very first thing came when our fundraisers were trying to think of something different to do and mentioned a parachute jump. I said it would be something I’d have loved to do if I was younger, but from there it grew arms and legs!
“Next year will be the 25th anniversary of that tandem parachute jump. I went to Strathallan to do it, and it was quite an experience.
“You sit on the floor of the plane and are asked to shuffle forward – and then there’s no going back! The first 5000 feet is freefall and it’s the exceptional bit.
“I can remember trying to take in air and I can still hear the sound in my ears; and then once the parachute opened, the following moments were very pleasant and very gentle as we came down.”
Sister Catherine’s incredible catalogue of fundraisers over nearly three decades with the hospice also includes having twice paraglided over Tinto Hill, braved the sharks at Deep Sea World, abseiled, completed the West Highland Way and even trekked the Great Wall of China.
She added: “We depend on the public and local people to raise funds; in the early days the work and name of the hospice weren’t as well known as today and all the events like this have helped raise awareness.
“Going to China and Spain on fundraisers were excellent experiences, especially meeting the whole host of lovely people who give their time and support to the hospice.
“It’s been great for me to take on these ventures and to see all these people over the years doing tremendous work for St Andrew’s, and how that response has grown as people want to keep the service going which is so important for families.”
A Sisters of Charity nun, Sister Catherine arrived at St Andrew’s in 1989 having previously nursed in London, at a time when the Airdrie hospice had 20 elderly care beds and six for the palliative patients it now serves.
She said: “The hospice changed over time, to allow us now to have 30 specialist palliative care beds serving the people of Lanarkshire. It’s been wonderful to see the hospice grow and develop, to provide care not just to patients but to their extended families as well.
“My work is to support patients on a daily basis, at times to provide a listening ear to allow people to express and talk about fears and anxieties.
“It’s just such a privilege to be in this role and have the opportunity every day to give that care. The courage people display is a great example to us all; I come away feeling how amazing these lovely people are.
“Lots of families come back to support us or raise money and it’s so touching to see, that they’ve felt that support at very difficult times in their lives and are so generous to us.”
St Andrew’s Hospice had been founded just three years before Sister Catherine’s arrival; it last year marked its 30th anniversary and is currently being completely rebuilt and refurbished – via a £ 9 million capital appeal – to upgrade it to be fully fit for the 21st century.
Patients are currently being cared for at a temporary facility at Wester Moffat hospital in the town, with the renovation project anticipated to be completed early next year.
Sister Catherine said: “The hospice’s level of care is second to none, and the new refurbishment will made a huge difference.
“It will be lovely to be able to accommodate families, which will be a real asset to them at a crucial time in their lives with their loved ones.
“Such tremendous work is being done and it’s great to see it progressing and to acknowledge all the hard work that’s going on. By far, people are our greatest resource and without their generosity we just couldn’t manage.
“The hospice has evolved thanks to the support of those including the board of trustees, who give their time, energy and expertise, our accommodating staff, tireless fundraising and our great band of volunteers – St Andrew’s just couldn’t provide that service without all their hard work.
“All our staff over the years have worked very hard from those early days – it’s amazing to see how the hospice has grown and how many lives it’s touched, and we have to acknowledge those who had that original dream 30 years ago.”
The best thing about all of them has been meeting the lovely people who take part.. they’re just wonderful
Safe landing Sister Catherine began her adventures with a parachute jump nearly 25 years ago and went on to try out paragliding over Tinto Hill in 1996
Hospice supporter Sister Catherine Egan, left, is now director of mission at the charity for which she has raised thousands of pounds over the years
Previous challenges How the Advertiser of September 2004 reported Sister Catherine’s newly-planned adventures