Rosemary McCloskey, a member of the Servite Secular Institute, and Director of St Joseph's Pastoral Centre, received an MBE in the New Year's Honours list for her work with people with learning difficulties. She has written this personal account of her life. I was born in Hammersmith, London in 1939. My parents having emigrated, my father from Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland and my mother from Donegal, in the Republic. I went to primary school at St Thomas of Canterbury in Fulham and later to the London Oratory. My first job as a volunteer was when I was about 15 years old, helping to bath elderly ladies at a Servite House, after work. My first paid work was in the Commonwealth Institute of Entomology drawing maps of the distribution of insect pests. My experience at Servite House led me to train as a general nurse at Lambeth Hospital, against my parents' advice. At about the same time I started to look round the various Religious Orders and exploring the possibilities of entering. When I discovered that it was possible to lead a consecrated life and make the Religious Vows of Poverty, Obedience and Celibacy and yet lead a life in the secular world as part of it I joined the Servite Secular Institute, a branch of the Order of the Servants of Mary. I celebrated 25 years in final vows in 2003. Wherever I have lived and worked I have tried to carry the Servite spirit of welcome and hospitality with me and the training I received left a profound mark on all my ministry. Most of my life has been dedicated to the service of people with disabilities and I've always been impressed by the huge potential and gifts that they can offer, given the opportunity. Although working as a nurse and later teaching in a special school after obtaining my degree in education were rewarding in themselves they paved the way for a most wonderful opportunity on the staff team of Castle Priory college in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. It was during those nine years that my job involved searching out people at home and abroad who were working at the cutting edge with disabled people. I was able to travel and see the best and worst of practise and to run training courses involving the best practitioners. The emphasis on multi-disciplinary work and the presenting of courses to open the minds of indigenous professional groups to other cultures living in the UK was a hallmark of the college. It was my good fortune to be responsible for the course for teachers from the Arab Emirates and the annual Technology course organised by Roger Jefcoate, which brought Occupational Therapists from India and Australia as well as Europe. Many of the people I worked with then are still friends now. The demand for training changed emphasis with the emergence of adults from the long-stay institutions into the community. I became one of the original trustees of Walsingham Community Homes and part of its establishment as an organisation. At the same time, with another Servite member, I formed my own charity, Community Training Ltd, and for the next five years we were inundated with demands for the training of new staff in the new community-based homes. We worked with many organisations and religious orders. The emphasis was on including individuals in the life of the local community. Together we developed Personal Futures planning, inspired by John O'Brien and others from the United States. Speaking at the NAMHI Conference in Ireland in 2004 I realised that Person Centred Planning has yet to be implemented in many places in Ireland as well as the UK. Later, I became Director of St Joseph's Pastoral Centre, an agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster. Initially I continued working with some of the religious orders and with Cheshire Homes but later concentrated on developing the work of the agency. Key to this was the formation and training of ordinary people for lay ministry and collaborative work around liturgy, retreats and spiritual development for children and adults with learning and profound difficulties. Many of the pioneering projects inspired others to develop the concept in their own way. Since my Castle Priory days I never lost touch or ceased to be impressed by the Anglican and other communities, and particularly on the spiritual front where there was a common sacramental system we were able to work together for the training of parishioners as catechists, especially for those with severe disabilities. Since then I have had the privilege to work with a small Jewish community in north London too. One of the better parts of being a speaker at conferences was initiating people with learning difficulties into the public speaking arena. I found that what people really remembered were the contributions of disabled men and women on these occasions. If asked at the end of the day what mattered most I would probably say the workshops with parents with parallel workshops for their sons and daughters, the training of educational advocates to help parents through that particular minefield and the move from separate liturgies to inclusive in some of the more visionary Catholic parishes. Some of the more memorable incidents to date include the priest who adapted his regular Sunday liturgy to be accessible to people with learning difficulties and got a standing ovation from his parishioners at the post-communion; the conference I facilitated for twenty bright young men and women, all using voice synthesisers as they had no expressive language without and the glittering evenings hosted by the Sri Lankan community - wonderful silk saris, gold jewellery, delicious food, good entertainment - and people with profound difficulties welcomed and enjoying an unforgettable occasion with everyone else; working in Malta recently and seeing the Maltese coming to grips with Symbolic Catechesis, their simultaneous translation and being privileged to receive the Gospel Message in Maltese. I am being encouraged to write about my experiences and no doubt this is what will be occupying my time in future, as well as discovering a lot more about the island of Ireland and its people.
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