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Where’s the Bishop?

Mamie, who was born in Limerick in 1931 and grew up in Dublin, and is one of those supported by the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors Project, had been convinced there was a bishop coming to visit her, and as each of the guests came into her flat and turned out not to be a bishop, she seemed to grow more and more disappointed. First in were Paul the Seniors Manager and Joe, one of our wonderful volunteers. They were followed by two special visitors from Ireland: Alan Brogan, former Dublin Gaelic footballer, and Harry Casey who works closely with the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference; which is where she must have got the notion that there was a bishop flying over to see her. As I trooped in last, Mamie asked me, almost in desperation, “Are you the bishop?”

The visit to Mamie was part of a hugely enjoyable day spent in London introducing Alan and Harry to some of the elderly Irish supported by the Seniors Project, in anticipation of a sponsored walk which was to take place in October 2018 to raise funds for the project and for which Alan had kindly agreed to be ambassador. Mamie proudly took us into her little back garden which had been transformed by Joe’s hard work at weekends. As the illustrious party settled down for tea and sandwiches prepared by Joe, Mamie mentioned once more that she really had been expecting a bishop. Alan may be a three-time All-Ireland title holder (and he was incredibly attentive with each of the people we visited), but what Mamie wanted was a bishop!

Mamie began to tell us a bit of her story, how she and her beloved Nicholas had left Ireland in the 1960s on their wedding day to come to a new life in London. It was following the death of Nicholas in 2010 that Mamie had been supported particularly closely by the Irish Chaplaincy. She was given assistance in arranging the funeral; the visits to her were increased; and she was helped to link back into the community. Nowadays she is very settled and attends a day centre four days a week. But she says she gets a bit lonely at the weekends and she still has a regular Chaplaincy visitor. What’s more, the Chaplaincy arranged each year for Mamie to travel to Ireland to visit her sisters, both in their 90s; with somebody accompanying her to the airport and ensuring she has the support she needs when travelling. Mamie was able to go on such a trip a few months before one of her sisters passed away, and she was so pleased to have seen her before she died.

Mamie has also asked that we arrange her funeral when she dies and she will be buried in London with her Nicholas. Mamie’s niece in Ireland told us, “It is so lovely she is supported by the Chaplaincy. You are her family over there. Thank you so much.”

There are 20,000 elderly Irish living alone in London, according to the 2011 Census, and some of those we visit are not so willing to talk about their early lives; it’s too painful. But what always strikes us is how grateful each person is for their visits from the Irish Chaplaincy, to have someone who comes regularly to sit with them and chat. “I can’t praise these people highly enough,” and “I don’t know what I would have done without them,” were two comments made during that day of visits. Sean, who sadly died in 2020 at the age of seventy-eight, said of his Chaplaincy visitor Pat, a fellow Dubliner, “Pat is fantastic; I love his visits.” And Mamie has said, “I would have gone downhill without the Chaplaincy. Now I’m enjoying life again and getting out.”

“Keep up the great work,” was Alan’s encouraging message to us the following day, and we have every intention of doing so. And the final comment from Mamie as we were saying our goodbyes: “Make sure they send a bishop next time!”

Mamie’s dream was to come true in 2019 when, thanks again to help from the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors’ Project, she went on the Westminster Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, a long-held wish. There is a photo of her outside the basilica in Lourdes, and smiling broadly, with Vincent Nichols, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

In 2020 and in response to the increased isolation that people were facing due to the Covid-19 pandemic Mamie was one of the first to be presented with a pre-programmed Tablet as part of the Irish Chaplaincy’s ‘Keeping Connected’ campaign. One of the first things she said was that she would be able to speak to her sister in Dublin on her 100thbirthday which was to be in September 2021. Mamie was true to her word and we were all incredibly touched to receive a photo of Sr Joseph seeing Mamie on the screen:

Sr Noreen wrote, “Sr Joseph’s niece and the four Good Shepherd Sisters who celebrated her 100th birthday with her yesterday all agreed that the highlight for Sr Joseph was the video call which you facilitated with her only living sibling Mamie Williamson. Sr Joseph (Rita to her family) became more animated when she saw Mamie and though she did not speak it was evident that she was touched.”

Mamie also enjoys using the Tablet to watch Mass from her local parish church in North London, and sometimes as well Masses in Ireland:

NB part of the above is extracted from the book ‘Looking Ahead with Hope: Stories of Humanity, Wonder and Gratitude in a Time of Uncertainty’ by Eddie Gilmore.

Eddie Gilmore

Author Eddie Gilmore

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