Reviewed by Kathy O’Grady


A Vision Unfolds, 1952–2002 St Mary’s, South Hill, Delvin, County Westmeath is a book that chronicles the development of service provision, both day and residential, for people with intellectual disabilities in the Midlands. It also gives a glimpse into the lives of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary as they have dedicated their lives to quality service provision.

The book includes articles by people who reflect on the contribution of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary to innovation in service provision. Contributors include Professor Desmond Swan, Stephen Kealy, John O’Gorman, Dr Bernie Fay, Breda Crehan-Roche and others.

Significant events are highlighted, as they have occurred decade-by-decade. For instance, in the 1950s, three of the nuns—Sister Redempta, Mother Joseph and Sister Desmond—quite literally started from scratch in a big old house and began a service that was to touch the lives of hundreds. In the 1960s, sanction was given to St Mary’s for a special school which became renowned for ‘the Delvin Project’, a proven methodology for teaching numerics on which the Department of Education later based a mathematics curriculum development. In the 1980s, given the residential population of many people with multiple profound disabilities, the development of a CRC-style gymnasium and hydrotherapy pool added to the range of facilities available in St Mary’s. The same decade was also characterised by moves into the community, with the development of many more forms of service provision such as the pre-school junior training unit ‘Lissadell’, in Mullingar, the clinic for assessment and counselling in Valley Bungalows, also in Mullingar, and many more community-based projects.

The 1990s were characterised by addressing the needs of adults in many imaginative ways, i.e. the development of South Hill Enterprises in Athboy and the Divine Chocolate Company, the development of the Therapeutic Farm and Horticulture Project in St Mary’s, Delvin, etc. Many community residences were spurred from the headquarters in St Mary’s, and as Regional Manager Danny Monaghan reflects, ‘It is our challenge to carry the ethos of the Sisters of Charity with us into the new millennium as we endeavour to develop services.’

This book is an excellent pictorial record of the lives of the Sisters, the people and the service.

It is important to reflect where we have come from in service provision if we are to be certain of where we are going; to learn from history, to avoid mistakes of the past, but to carry forward into the future the many positive aspects of service provision that leap from the pages of this 200-page book.

A vision unfolded will be of great interest and importance to those whose lives have been shaped by the work of the Sisters of Charity and the service provision which they ushered in. The book is a must for those interested in the role of voluntary bodies in shaping services; the history of Irish service development; any organisation contemplating documenting their development; and those interested in learning more about the origins of the philosophy and ethos that inform present day ‘mission statements’.

Price €25.00 – Available from Sister Kathleen O’Connor, St Mary’s, Delvin, Co. Westmeath, Tel: 044-64108.