Sister Stanislaus Kennedy’s life of action and activism began when she joined The Sisters of Charity as an 18 year old novice. Now 80 years of age, she joined Seán O’Rourke to reflect on all that she’s packed in to her 62 year career.
Most people probably know Sister Stan, as she is affectionately known, as founder of Focus Ireland and tireless campaigner for the homeless. That’s not even the half of it. Sister Stan was involved in establishing the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Young Social Innovators and a range of other local outreach projects at the start of her career. She’s some woman for one woman – or in more contemporary parlance, #WeStan.
Sister Stan’s work with the homeless began when she came to Dublin, initially as the subject of academic research.
“I went back to university as a senior research fellow. I did research on the nature and extent of homelessness amongst women. That’s what led me to spend a year with young women who were homeless and then to start Focus Ireland.”
Today, some 35 years later, Sister Stan is clear that homelessness has never been so bad.
“It is a disaster, it is a national disaster. It isn’t a natural disaster, it is a disaster caused by the policies and priorities of successive governments.”
Similarly, she is adamant that while politicians may be in a position to legislate to solve the problem, politics isn’t necessarily the solution.
“What has to be done is that they have to take the politics out of housing. Housing is broken. They have to think of long term plans as well as short term plans … We need houses, we need to build houses and we need to build on public land.”
Seán wondered whether Sister Stan would be in favour of measures to redirect the capacity of the construction industry from hotels and office blocks, to housing. In short, yes she would. She explained that near Stanhope St. where she lives, there are hotels and student accommodation being built by developers at a pace that begs more questions than answers.
“How do they find the sites? How do they develop so quickly? Hundreds of units going up like lightning. The developers are ahead of the posse. That’s what we need to do. We need a commission for housing that could be totally dedicated to providing housing.”
In terms of her spirituality, Seán asked whether her interest in things like Buddhism, mindfulness etc. may have caused her to move away from the Catholic Church. The answer was clear, no. Sister Stan is still very much a Catholic, but that doesn’t mean she is oblivious to some of the church’s challenges.
“I have difficulties with the way the church has gone. It really saddens me. It’s not responding to the needs. Young people are leaving. The absence of women in the Church is a big thing. Not allowing priests to marry if they wish, that’s another big issue.”
She even went against the church’s official policy with regard to the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland in 2015. Seán was interested in whether that decision caused her any difficulty?
“It didn’t, I was quite clear in my head. I knew many gay couples, they worked with me and I knew that they loved each other. I felt it was a human right and I felt it was a civil right.”
Find out more about Sister Stan’s cancer treatment, her thoughts on the housing crisis and her take on Pope Francis in the full interview on Today with Seán O’Rourke here.
Being Stan: A Life In Focus can be seen on RTÉ One Thursday 13th February at 10.15pm and afterwards on rte.ie/player
Jan Ní Fhlanagáin
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