Let the Children Come to Me

Sister Fidelma Walsh OP

Sister Tam and Sister Fidelma enjoying the antics of the babies while they enjoy their mid-morning bottle.

Every morning after Morning Prayer and Mass at Marian House in Boksburg, Sister Fidelma sets out in the car to the Rainbow Centre at Saint Francis Care Centre. Five days a week, every week of the year for some 17 years. Rain or shine, summer and winter. She goes to feed and to cuddle the babies. And these are particularly vulnerable babies.

St Francis Care Centre was opened in 1992 by Fr Stan Brennan, a Franciscan priest, who was moved with compassion by the ostracization of men and women affected by or infected with HIV/Aids.  His priestly ministry brought him in contact with men and women who were abandoned by their family and friends, and left to die alone and with nothing. He set up the Centre to care for and accompany these men and women on their last journey.  And a section was set aside for babies – up to 30 children from newborns to 7 years old – who have been abandoned by their families.

It is these babies, and especially the youngest among them, that Sister Fidelma visits every day. She knows each one. And she loves each one.

Every action belying her 92 years, Sister Fidelma strides sprightly into St Francis, greets the Staff cheerfully, dons her apron and goes straight into the Babies’ Room – where there may be wailing and gnashing of teeth. There are little legs scrambling all over the floor on one side, while elsewhere another child sits forlornly on a support stool because at 8 months old he can’t sit up by himself. He was abandoned in the street. Literally: he was found by the side of the road. He’s a winsome wee chap, very happy to snuggle when he’s lifted up. A testament to the power of love.

Sister Fidelma does the rounds of each child, scolding those who are naughty, complimenting another for good behaviour.

When the children have finished their morning jam sandwiches and cup of milk, it’s time to go out into the Playroom. Here there is more space for running and crawling and sprawling, an area of blankets to lie down on, and a host of toys to choose from. When there’s a visitor in the Centre, every child wants an extra touch of attention. Quite understandable, and most visitors are obliging.

Now it’s time for the babies’ bottles. One by one, Sister Fidelma fetches the bottle, scoops up the child and engages in a loving conversation as the child drinks. When the bottle is empty, and after the usual winding, this child is lovingly carried over to the blanket area and gently laid down for a morning nap. Then it’s back to the Kitchen with the empty bottle and to fetch the next one. Sister has her routine hones to a fine art! Three babies down, and it’s time to sit and watch the little ones and chat with the Staff.

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