Working in child safeguarding was a passion for one Kerry woman after a career of teaching, but not everybody was willing to change their operating procedures. When she ran into resistance from her trainees, Bridie Cronin refused to give up.
“I know a lot of parish representatives and priests didn’t agree with it initially but we said, ‘No, this is it and this is in your own best interest and the interest of protecting children that you adopt this programme,’” she said.
Bridie, the former Diocesan Coordinator for the Safeguarding Committee, was recognised for her extensive work in safeguarding policies in December 2018, when she and her long-time colleague were presented with the Benemerenti Medal.
“It was a huge shock to the system,” said the 77-year-old Ballyhide native of the prestigious award. “We had both retired in 2016 from delivering the programme in the diocese because in 2016 a full-time person was brought on board by the diocese: Jacklyn McCarthy.” Bridie and Fred Garvey were presented with their medals at the end of a quiet dinner with their friends by Bishop Ray Browne, the bishop of Kerry.
Even after her retirement from actively delivering the training, Bridie stayed on with the committee to support its ongoing development. “We felt we shouldn’t walk away immediately, that we should stay on and give as much help to Jacklyn as we could.”
The Safeguarding Committee, established in Kerry by Bishop Bill Murphy in 2003, was led by Bridie and Garvey, who volunteered their time and delivered safeguarding training to priests and parish representatives around the diocese.
Bridie has lived a life of serving and supporting young people, having led a long career in primary school education. After receiving her teaching certificate from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, she began her work at the Mercy Convent in Athlone. Soon after, she returned to Kerry to continue teaching.
“The mist on the Kerry mountains called me back and I got a job at the Glen School in Ballinskelligs.”
She taught there for three years, helping to build a drama group, alongside her teaching, that travelled through Kerry to put on their shows. She continued to move around, going to do work in Scotland with the Legion of Mary and spending 27 years teaching at St Oliver’s school in Killarney, where she lives today.
After retiring in 2004, she found herself called by Bishop Bill Murphy in 2005 to get involved in child protection. “In December 2005, retired chief superintendent of Kerry Fred Garvey and I went to Maynooth to be trained in safeguarding,” she said. While they struggled a bit with the density of canon law, she and Garvey “qualified the following June, and then we drew up policies for our own diocese here in Kerry”.
Bridie and Garvey began implementing their training system in parishes around the diocese. While they took many steps to make sure parishes were included beyond their clergy, they still ran into some difficulties. Some parish representatives and priests were less than cooperative.
“The training initially was very difficult because, I suppose, child protection was very new at the time,” she said. “As we went along we became more and more familiar with the course and we eventually had our heads around it; that this is the way it has to be.”
Over her years as Diocesan Coordinator, Bridie watched the programme evolve and grow as new issues were addressed, much to the annoyance of some of her trainees. In fact, she grew those changes herself.
“We once had a day of training [after the innovation portion] at the end of the day and one priest stood up and said that he hoped there would be no more changes [to the curriculum],” she explained. “And I said, ‘Father, I’m sorry, but there will be changes’. Because we’re continually learning. We’re continually putting different procedures in place to strengthen the programme.”
By the time she and Garvey retired in 2016 from travelling around the diocese, she felt they had done “quite a good job of getting the programme up and running in every parish in the diocese”.
However, for Bridie, a dynamic, shifting curriculum is essential to keeping the programme effective. “That’s what we were doing the whole time, having a look at the situation and seeing where there were weaknesses,” she said.
As time went on, she was constantly tinkering with the programme to ensure it would be effective and relevant. “I was continually adding to the questions in the audit, and people were complaining that the audit was getting longer and longer every year, and it was. Because something would happen and we’d need to cover it. That’s how it works. We were all the time improving.”
Bridie was happy to volunteer her time and effort to the safeguarding initiative, but she was given the time and friendship of others in return. “The programme enriched me,” she said of her experiences. “We met so many wonderful people, not only in Kerry but beyond.”
Though she is no longer the Diocesan Coordinator, Bridie’s continued service to the committee shows her ongoing dedication to the safety and well-being of children.
“I think the programme is well-structured,” she said. “This programme should be in place not only in parishes but in other organisations. And now most organisations have their procedures and policies. They’re all very conscious of child protection.”