September’s local hero is 91-year-old Sr. Aine Cullen, who is still dedicating her time and talents to helping people with special needs improve their speech development in the Delta Centre nearly 20 years after she retired from St Leo’s. According to the awards judges, Nationalist editor Conal O’Boyle and Talbot Hotel general manager Ken Battigan: “Sr. Aine has been an inspiration to generations for students, and continues to inspire to this very day.”
“A LADY ahead of her time” is how Eileen Brophy, director of services at Carlow’s Delta Centre, describes Sr. Aine Cullen. Sr. Aine, a sprightly 92-year-old member of the Mercy Sisters order, has spent her entire adult life teaching languages and speech and drama at St Leo’s College, Carlow, and now at the Delta Centre. Though she’s long past retirement age, she’s up there, Monday to Friday, every afternoon, teaching the learners.
“Communication is so important to help people vocalise what they need and she helps them do that,” Eileen smiles. “That’s a talent she has and she plays a vital role here.” Sitting in her small, neat office, or wandering through the beautiful gardens, Sr. Aine helps the learners express what they see, feel, need and want through conversation and methods of speech therapy.
Working with people with special needs is something that she was always interested in, even when she was teaching mainstream classes. When she was studying for her higher diploma in Dublin as a young novice, Sr. Aine spent her valuable time away from the convent taking classes in speech and drama in Westland Row and was awarded a diploma from the London College of Speech and Drama. “Speech therapists weren’t common then, it was complicated,” she says, explaining that throughout her years of teaching, she studied and “picked up bits and pieces of information wherever I could”. The opportunity to help those with special needs came when she formally retired almost 20 years ago from mainstream teaching. “I came up and presented myself to Eileen,” Sr Aine recalls, “because from the time I realised that I could operate with students at any level, I resolved to concentrate on helping people who were ‘catching up’.”
“Sr Aine was my elocution teacher in school and that’s where I got my love of public speaking. I was thrilled when she applied here,” Eileen says. She points out that Sr. Aine’s time with her students is “personal to the trainee. It’s their time, and no-one else’s, with her”. Eileen also praises her former mentor as a woman as “being ahead of her time” because she recognised the value of speech and drama, especially for people with special needs, long before the techniques were formulated. She uses the entire centre for her informal classes, walking through the garden or having a chat in the restaurant. It doesn’t matter to her where the classes take place, as long as the learners are expressing themselves.
In turn, Sr. Aine, who’s originally from Hacketstown, says that the Delta Centre has enriched her life and has strengthened her faith. “It’s strengthened my belief in the afterlife,” she smiles, “because there must be a reward somewhere for the learners.” “Sr. Aine must be one of the oldest people doing this work – and doing it so well – in the whole country,” Eileen concludes with a beaming smile. “To us, she’s a real local hero!”
Carlow’s Local Heroes is a new community-based awards initiative that aims to recognise and celebrate local people who, in the eyes of their friends, neighbours and colleagues, can truly be described as making a positive difference to people’s lives