Davis Clark speaks with a Loreto nun breaking all barriers
Visual impairment is certainly a challenge, but for someone like Sr Bríd Smith, challenges are simply opportunities for growth. “That’s one thing visual impairment has taught me: the goodness in people”, she says. Even with her failing eyesight, she truly feels that she “see[s] people at their best”. It would be difficult not to believe her wholeheartedly. The 65-year-old nun has been a member of the Loreto Community in Blackrock since 1960, and during that time she has proven repeatedly that boundaries are merely gateways to spiritual discovery.
Born in Shercock, Co. Cavan, Sr Bríd recalls her decision to join the sisterhood fondly. “I was educated by the Loreto Sisters in Cavan and was inspired and housed by them and their whole philosophy of education.
“The best thing that I could do was pass down what I learned from the Loreto Sisters and so I planted there in 1960 and of course I’ve been with them ever since,” she says.
Faith has always been a powerful presence in her life. She describes watching her family pray as having a significant effect on her. “I had a very good religious upbringing…[my parents] had very strong Faith and very loyal practices as Catholics, and growing up in that whole atmosphere, prayer was very much a part of our lives.”
She felt motivated to join the order while she lived with the Loreto Community and saw the satisfaction the sisters gained from a life of deep belief. “I was boarding with them so I got to see a lot of their prayer life, their dedication and really their love for what they were doing and that they were very happy in their vocation.”
The impression was so powerful that she decided to join early in her life. “Before I left for college I had my mind made up and always thought that is what I would want to do,” she says.
Sr Bríd recalls entering the order in 1960 as a time of difficulty and growth. “The nunship was pretty challenging training, but that was to be expected because we were underneath the life of dedication, poverty, chastity, obedience.”
Her certainty never wavered, however, owing both to her own fortitude and the support of the sisterhood. “The sisters in charge had to see we were able for the challenge and that the challenge would strengthen us,” she says.
After joining the Loreto Community, Sr Bríd traveled around Ireland teaching at schools. With a degree in education, she worked in communities like Dalkey and Killarney, before returning to Blackrock, where she has remained for over 20 years. Living a life for others has sustained her while at the community. Her “driving force”, as she puts it, was “an atmosphere of prayer, where people are dedicated to service of others.”
Going blind 16 years ago was undoubtedly a sizable challenge for Sr Bríd. “It started off with retinal detachment and there were some complications with that and eventually it developed to retinal degeneration to the stage where I was registered blind,” she says.
Throughout it all, she has remained positive and grateful to those who have assisted her, particularly the NCBI. “I have got wonderful help from the National Council for the Blind. Within one month they had started teaching me brail and within two years I had my first lovely guide dog.”
Her positive experiences with the NCBI help fuel her desire to give back. “They have been absolutely wonderful, and that is why I like to support in any kind of fundraising that I can and I’m very glad to be able to do it because I can see from my own experience the wonderful work they do and how they help people like me who become visually impaired,” says Sr Bríd.
This has led to her decision to take part in the Cycle of Light event on August 24, a fundraising initiative in which participants bike from Dalkey to Howth in total darkness. This is a symbolic effort to support those who have been afflicted by vision loss, and although it is nearly an 85km journey, Sr Brid feels excited and prepared. “It’s a beautiful route and we have done it actually ourselves even the week before, and we’ve kept up the training.” She’ll be making the route on a tandem bike, with friends leading the way. “I have had a great team of people who have acted as pilot for me and take me out on a regular basis,” she says.
Events like the Cycle of Light have proven to be affirmative experiences for her, as she says, “I see people dedicating their time, spending hours coming to Killarney for the weekend or whatever on a regular basis”, and that those displays have kept her “good and fit over the years”.
She encourages people to come participate in the Cycle of Light, because she says “there will be great support in it, and there will be great fun in it”.