Jean Quinn D.W
The book of Ecclesiasticus tells us that for everything under the sun there is a season…. a time to be happy, and a time to cry; a time to remember, a time to forget. This time in the life of Sophia is a time to remember and a time to reflect and a time to be joyful as we celebrate 25years of service to those who have experienced homelessness.
Pope Francis recently expressed his hope for a growth in communion between the members of our Institutes, calling us to step out more courageously from the confines of our respective institutes and to work together, which would make for a prophetic witness. Well, we did that with Sophia 25 years ago where we were open to an encounter with each other, we listened, we dialogued, and we came up with a positive response which is now called Sophia.
Two things helped me in my reflection at the time – the Irish Poem Trasna meaning the Crossing helped us take that enormous leap of faith.
The Pilgrim paused on the ancient stones,
In the mountain gap,
Behind them stretched the roadway they had travelled,
Ahead mist hit the track.
Unspoken the question hovered:
Why go on? Is life not short enough?
Why seek to pierce its mystery?
Why venture further on strange paths risking all?
Surely that is a gamble for fools …. or lovers?
Why not return quietly by the known road?
Why be a pilgrim still?
A voice they knew called to them, saying:
This is TRASNA, the crossing place.
Choose. Go back if you must,
You will find your way easily by yesterday’s road,
You can pitch your tent by yesterday’s fires.
There may be fire in the embers yet.
If that is not your deep desire,
Stand still. Lay down your load.
Take your life in your two hands,
(,,, you are trusted with something precious)
While you search your heart’s yearnings:
What am I seeking? What is my quest?
When your star rises within,
Trust yourself to its leading.
You will have light for your first steps.
This TRASNA, the crossing place.
This is TRASNA, the crossing place.
And we did!
25 years ago in July 1997, the seed of an idea was planted. We progressed from this seed of an idea to what I truly believe now is a successful organization under our chair now Michael Mc Carthy and the Board of Directors.
And we have had so many joys with all the projects we created. But of course, we have not been without our challenges! After all, like any young toddler, we toddled about, bumped into difficulties, fallen and left the occasional mess. And as we grew older, we managed our technological problems under the direction of Maire Nally figuring out unique technologies that neither Eamon Martin nor myself had a clue about! And then like any teenagers we loved to travel as we did in the length and breadth of Ireland looking at convents. And in those times, all our strategies were accomplished – in Eamonn’s car!! The concept of providing a holistic model of care to provide a better quality of life for homeless people, with focus, great effort and a strong set of principles which has now grown into something truly special which I believe has changed Ireland.
It is always a privilege for me to talk about one of my passions which is homelessness and those with a lived experience of it. I have been working with the homeless since 1986, when there very few integrated services for people who found themselves homeless. Now things have changed and there are many more integrated services for the homeless. However, what has not changed dramatically is that there is still an increase in homelessness – not just in Ireland but globally. Homeless affects all of us as communities and society.
But my belief is that Sophia has a solution, and it works. I truly believe that the work in services carried out by Tony O Riordan, Niamh Cullen, Susie O keeffe, the Sophia Leadership Team and other teams is significant, and it makes a difference. Sophia provides a professional and holistic model of service which is a unique way of addressing the multiplicity of issues homeless people experience. I believe that the people who come to Sophia are touched by goodness, compassion, hope, love, touching the lives of people others have given up on, but we in Sophia will never give up on them. This is the world I want to live in and the world I know all of you want to live in.
Sophia fittingly started our celebrations with representatives of the Religious of Ireland which was my wish. As I looked around and saw all the familiar faces since the early days and which has grown over the years with many more members that have significantly contributed to the work of Sophia. The commitment we made together 25 years ago and still do has borne much fruit. I offer my biggest thanks to the Religious of Ireland. You. Me and all of us are continuing to leave a unique contribution to those left furthest behind in Ireland.
This is a time for reflection and celebration, and a time for gratefulness, for all the people who we have been privileged to journey with over the years. Here I want to remember Eamonn Martin who was on this long journey with us since June 1998. Eamonn gave of his time, energy, compassion, and love for all who were homeless both in Focus Ireland and Sophia. Later we will celebrate the life and commitment of Eamonn, Ann Thomas, Sr. Caitriona and many more who have gone before us – and in the words of Jane Goodall “above all we must realize that each of us makes a difference with our life. Each of us impacts the world around us every single day. We have a choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place – or not to bother” We together we have bothered and together we are making unique mark on our world.
I am now working at the UN in New York and Geneva. And this is the place we continue to gather as religious and where I believe we are leaving a significant mark at the UN and with Member States. Homelessness has become a unique issue at the UN in the past few years considering that in its 76-year history it was never discussed until three years ago. In 2019 the UN invited me with 15 other experts to go to the UN in Nairobi to prepare the Secretary General’s Report for the Commission on Social Development ,2020. When the UN interviewed me for the task to my surprised, they asked if I would present on family homelessness and include Sophia as a Best Practice, so they had done their homework. This was a significant moment for all of us involved. We had a successful outcome at that commission in that we had the first non-binding Resolution passed by the Economic and Social Council at the UN. Lat year in 2021 several member states invited me and another NGO to act in a consultancy capacity with them to secure a binding resolution via the Third Committee at the UN that went to the General Assembly in December and was ratified by all 193 member states on the 16th of December 2021. During that 12 month consultancy process I mentioned Sophia every chance I could get until one day a member state asked me what Sophia would do in a particular situation – for me at that moment mission accomplished.
And so, the mission we set out to do together 25 years ago continues quietly in Wisdom Sophia’s unique way, I truly have a heart full of gratitude for all the Congregations have done for Sophia, and I know you will continue to do in the coming years. We will continue to be called to be change makers in the homeless sector in Ireland.