Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, often called Sister Stan, is a well-known social innovator, campaigner and writer. She is the founder of Focus Ireland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and The Sanctuary. I interviewed her as she prepares for The Sanctuary’s annual mindfulness conference on May 10th in Dublin Castle.
How is life with you these days? What is your main focus or is every day different?
Life is good thank God. My main focus is with people in need, mainly people who find themselves homeless, immigrants and people who are marginalised in our country.
Can you tell us a little bit about what life was like for you as a child and your influences and inspirations?
I was reared in the Dingle peninsula and enjoyed the beauty and simplicity of life on a farm in a beautiful place. The place itself was an inspiration.
You set-up Focus Ireland back in 1985 to help end homelessness. What are your feelings on the situation now and what needs to happen?
In my 30 years with Focus Ireland I have never seen, and never imagined I would see, the situation of homeless people as awful as it is today. Last night 900 families spent the night in hotel rooms and B&B’s including almost 2,000 children. They were there the night before as well and will be there tomorrow afternoon. It is shocking and appalling.
You also co-founded Young Social Innovators, which is a great organisation. How important is it to empower young people in your view and why?
Making young people socially aware and inspiring and empowering them to become active citizens is one of, if not the most important thing we can do for Ireland’s future.
You founded the Immigration Council of Ireland. There are a lot of issues these days around race, racism and the refugee crisis. What are your views on this?
The crisis with refugees today is a wake-up call for this part of the world and for Ireland. The plight of men, women and children risking everything to reach safety is a loud speaker shouting out to our smugness, self-centeredness and our greed challenging us to rediscover our humanity and respond generously and fairly and justly.
A lot of people are moving away from religion these days. However there seems to be a growing interest in spirituality in general. How important do you think this is?
This is a sign of the times! And it is natural that people are interested in spirituality as the spirit in each of us is calling out to be listened to and responded to.
You are a great advocate for mindfulness and meditation. What do you think these practices have to offer people?
Mindfulness helps people to be aware, to be awake to the present moment. It is our capacity to be aware. Mindfulness gives us choices, allowing us to step outside our automatic thinking processes so we can see new possibilities.
How can people get started with mindfulness and meditation?
You can start by giving time each day to practice. But to practice you need help and it is better to starts with an Introduction to Mindfulness course. The Sanctuary runs many introduction to Mindfulness courses.
Self-care is another thing you talk about a lot. Why do you think this is important?
Self-care is about taking a personal responsibility for our life and accepting ourselves as we are, offering us inner peace and resilience. In order to care for others we must first of all care for ourselves. It is also preventative as it prevents burn out which is common today.
As if you weren't busy enough, you founded The Sanctuary in 1998. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The Sanctuary is a spirituality centre based in Dublin city centre. It is a place of beauty which touches into the beauty in each of us. It is a place of peace which touches into the inner peace in each of us. It is a place to learn and practice Mindfulness and Meditation and contemplation, in various ways.
What are your feelings in general about where Ireland is at as a country?
Ireland is at a crossroads. It can decide now to develop economically and socially in a way that leads to equality, justice and fairness or it can continue as it is and develop a society divided economically and socially.
If you had a magic wand, what would be your one wish for the world?
World peace and justice
The Sanctuary’s annual mindfulness conference takes place in Dublin Castle on May 10th and features world renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. Tickets can be booked online here. More information on Sr Stan here.