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Wednesday, 17 April 2013 11:59

Clarity of vision in pastoral care

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Sr Mary who is also blind for nearly all her life has worked at Villa Maria (formerly the Society for the Blind) as teacher, Religious Education Coordinator and Pastoral Care Coordinator for over 30 years. Her progressive loss of vision from age 11, her vocation and spirituality as a Sister of the Faithful Companions of Jesus give her a clear understanding of the needs of people with disabilities. 

Apart from her work as team leader for the DAISY project, which she helped establish several years ago, she is about to revive an area of service in Villa Maria that marked the institution’s very beginnings. 

“We used to do volunteer work visiting people in their homes. We’ll be getting this up and running in the next few months,” said Sr Mary. “That’s really exciting, because it brings us back to what used to happen at Villa Maria a long time ago.”

This latest project seems to be not only a return to Villa Maria’s roots, but also a clear progression from providing information and faith resources through digital audio content to that of building fellowship, conversation and face-to-face interaction.

The pastoral care team at Villa Maria will be working with another Christian group, putting their visiting lists and resources together. Initially, a team of four people will be going on home visits to vision impaired people across Melbourne. 

“Two of those are totally blind and two of those are vision impaired,” said Sr Mary. “We have a bank of four drivers and we can do with more.”

“I will be training and supervising those visitors and give us a few months and that should be really well established.”

This kind of determination illustrates Sr Mary’s approach to her work. This was also demonstrated in how she set up the DAISY project which continues to take up most of her time and remains a project she is keen to promote. 

The DAISY project was named after the Digital Accessible Information System, which enables the production of text as audio material on MP3 format for vision impaired people, replacing the old method of recording on cassette tapes. Printed material that are made available as digital audio files offer better sound quality, resume playback options and more space for books or magazines on one CD rather than numerous tapes. 

Two disks of specifically Catholic material are produced and sent out through Vision Australia every month. One disk is for the general population who are Catholic but vision impaired or handicapped, containing digital audio recordings of Sunday mass readings and articles from Catholic publications such as Madonna, Australian Catholics, Kairos, The Far East and hopefully, articles from The Majellan. The other disk is for vision impaired religious, containing material on ministry, prayer and spirituality. 

Sr Mary says the project could do with more funding, which often goes to the set up of another reader, who can hopefully take on the recording of articles from The Majellan and other publications. “Setting up our readers requires expenses for training and equipment, such as a special program for the computer for recording and a special microphone as well,” she said.

“This is a free service and we’re just anxious that people who need the CDs can get them, especially those in the community who may be just diagnosed with macular degeneration which is the one of the major causes of severe vision loss,” she said. “It’s a fast progressing disease, it can be very depressing. By our presence in this way, we’re saying that it’s not the end of the world.”

Very soon, Sr Mary’s efforts to bring conversation and interaction through home visits will make this assurance more deeply felt. 

“And by our very presence, we hope to assure them that there is life after blindness. “

To support the work of Sr Mary O’Shannessy through Villa Maria’s programs, please contact her at 03 9855 7675 or find out ways you can help through Villa Maria’s website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages.

(Photo of Sr Mary O'Shannessy from Villa Maria is used with permission) 

By Giselle Lapitan