A witness before a teacher…but preferably both

A witness before a teacher…but preferably both Former First Lady Barbara Bush

Rosie opened her new café and restaurant in the Midlands about 12 months ago. The business has gone from strength to strength. Many of the customers are regulars and they banter with Rosie and each other about the news of the day. A few months ago Rosie noticed an older woman coming into the restaurant and since then she too has become a regular. There was something vaguely familiar about this older lady, particularly the way she smiles. Rosie dismisses the thought until one day she overhears another customer refer to the woman as Sr Alex.

Rosie stops in her tracks, thinking “surely this can’t be my Sr Alex”. Emotion wells up inside this now 50-year-old business woman as she remembers growing up in a tough part of Dublin over forty years ago. Her childhood was a very unhappy one mainly because of a lot of pain and tension in her family home. Rosie’s only respite was her school and the brightest light of her childhood was her third and fourth class teacher…Sr Alex.

This young girl was very bright and eager to please but so unhappy. The only person she could confide her pain to was Sr Alex who loved her and helped little Rosie to see something of the beauty within herself.


Rosie was devastated when she came back to school in September to discover that Sr Alex had gone. She had not just moved to some other part of Dublin or Ireland but to another country on the far side of the world. For this vulnerable little girl, Sr Alex’s departure was her first real experience of loss and bereavement. More than 40 years on Rosie’s adult life has been filled with some joyful mysteries, many sorrowful ones and yes, a few glorious mysteries too. Through all the ups and downs of her life Rosie had never forgotten Sr  Alex and the positive influence she had been in her troubled childhood.

And now, could it be possible that this ray of light from so long ago had unwittingly shone back into her life again? Having done a little research Rosie discovers that yes, her former teacher is now her regular customer, no longer wearing the formal religious habit of yesteryear but with the same gentle smile.

Five years ago Sr Alex returned from working with local native communities in the Australian Outback and has now become a parish sister in the Irish Midlands. Needless to say the next time she walked through the door of Rosie’s restaurant there were many tears, some of sadness but mostly of joy and gratitude.

As I witnessed this reunion and became familiar with the story, I was reminded of the words of the late Pope Paul VI in his 1975 letter on evangelisation in which he spoke about the importance of teachers being witnesses: “The people of our day are more impressed by witnesses than by teachers, and if they listen to teachers it is because they also bear witness.”



You can’t win

A rather nervous kind of man was in Glasgow on a visit and got an opportunity to attend a Rangers/Celtic match. Aware of the potential for violence on such occasions, rooted in the Catholic/Protestant antagonism, he decided to play it safe and keep his head down and display no emotion whatsoever. Rangers scored and the man on his right went into a frenzy of cheering, shouting and singing. Our man remained stoically passive. Not long after, Celtic scored and the supporter on his left went completely wild with joy. But still our man remained indifferent. At which he was hit by a bottle from behind as someone roared at him: “You bloody atheist!”



Barbara Bush, wife of the first President Bush, died recently. I recall a wonderful address she gave to students who were graduating from university. In one passage she said: “As important as your obligation as a doctor, a lawyer or a business leader may be, your human connections with your spouse, your children and your friends are the most important investment you will ever make.

“At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal, but you will regret time not spent with your spouse, children or friends.”