Cuan Mhuire founder Sr Consilio speaks about 50 years of addiction treatment services in Athy

"There is a place for people here... they can get well"

Paula Campbell


Paula Campbell

Cuan Mhuire founder Sr Consilio speaks about 50 years of addiction treatment services in Athy

Sr Consilio pictured at Cuan Mhuire in Athy

“What matters most is the people passing through our doors.”

These are the words of Sr Consilio who set up the drink, drugs, gambling and other addictions centre Cuan Mhuire in Athy 50 years ago this week.

As the centre celebrates its golden jubilee Sr Consilio took some time out to recall how it all began back in 1966.

“It really started by word of mouth. I had been working as a midwife in St Vincent’s when I was transferred to the kitchen in the convent.

“I met a lot of people around me who were suffering and I saw a lot of distress. There was nowhere for addicts to go at the time except to St Pats or John of God. I had to let it start around me and it kept growing.”

Indeed it grew into what is now one of several centres around Ireland that provide a home with a family environment for people suffering from addiction.

Over the years many volunteers and like minded people have come on board to help 75,000 people through their recovery programme and enjoy a better life.

“The only advice I would say is for people to first accept that they have a problem. We are all blind when it comes to our own addictions.

“There is a place for them here. There is a welcome and they can get well. We have 140 people on the recovery programme here in Athy at the moment and there is a waiting list. It is always full. We are hoping to build a new woman’s unit here soon - they need their own space. We don’t have the money but then we never had any money so we never wait for it or we would never get anything done.

“On average here in Athy we support 3,000 residents a year. Our neighbours are very supportive and helpful down through the years and they are very close to our hearts. I was very doubtful at the beginning because everybody was against it - they thought I was bringing trouble to the door but that was a long time ago.”

One of the next projects for the centre is called the Friends of Cuan Mhuire.

“We are looking to set up support centres in every town in Ireland,” she added.

“Because people when they go through recovery need support afterwards when they are back out in the community. It is very important that when they leave here there is a place that they can go to for support and after care for them and their families — a home from home. We need support to get this off the ground. We need two rooms and a toilet in every town in Ireland and volunteers to run it. Preferably those who have been through the programme already as they will know what that person is going through. We would really appreciate support with this new dimension of Cuan Mhuire. Families in distress could also get help there too and guidance for people in recovery.”

Sr Consilio has seen many changes through the years although people, she says, all want the same thing — to be loved.

“People deep down are all the same. Cuan Mhuire is for people full of fear, stress, anxiety and who have lost the way and need someone to listen to them. They need someone to say that they are important, that their feelings matter and that with time they can disclose their own inner goodness. And that will never change.”

Sr Consilio pictured with RTÉ presenter Miriam O'Callaghan at the celebrations

There is a tight knit community in Cuan Mhuire and a strong team that surrounds Sr Consilio including Sr Maureen, Sr Colette, Fr Dominique, and longstanding driver and support worker Don.

Sr Maureen (92) has worked at Cuan Mhuire for the past 30 years.

“Cuan Mhuire is a place where you can change yourself and nobody else. We are all equal,” says Sr Maureen.

Fr Dominique pointed out that too often people forget a basic fact of life.

“By the choices we make and our attitudes we often complicate life for ourselves. We are looking for someone or something outside of ourselves to make us happy. And that never happens. People end up feeling frustrated, unfulfilled or a failure, leading to shame, guilt and anger. We only find freedom, joy and hope when we stop and look in on ourselves and our goodness. No one or one thing can give it to us. When difficulties come our way as they do for all of us, we then have the tools we need to deal with them in a positive, constructive way.”

Sr Colette, who has spent the past 16 years at Cuan Mhuire says her time here has given her an opportunity to express her vocation.

“Cuan Mhuire provides a broader concept of education, drawing out the best in people and helping them to discover their own goodness, gifts and full potential.

It is very fitting that Sr Consilio called this place Cuan Mhuire as it brings light, hope and love to the people that come through here.”

And Don, who has been at Cuan Mhuire also for nearly 40 years and has driven Sr Consilio the length and breath of Ireland during that time describes this as the ‘best years’ of his life.

After a tour of the centre that includes a working farm, pottery and wood workshops, a conference centre and a garden centre is it clear that there is a great team at work. Sr Consilio also wanted to pay tribute to one other special lady.

“There is a deep conviction in Cuan Mhuire that Our Lady is making all things new in this special year, building on the past 50 years to take us to our new milestone.”