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Eileen O’Connor’s heroism inspires students with special needs

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Left to right: Chad Grieves, Sophie Kerwick, Roman Baroud, Elizabeth Vu. The students started in Year 7 at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College when it first opened in 2016 and are currently in Year 9. PHOTO: Kitty Beale

The strength, determination and charity of the woman who could be Australia’s next saint serves as an inspiration for students at a Sydney school named in her honour.

Eileen O’Connor Catholic College in Lewisham caters for students with a moderate intellectual disability and its ethos focuses on Eileen’s resilience in the face of adversity and her dedication to serving others.

Eileen suffered from a debilitating illness for most of her short life and was constantly in pain. Despite this she served the poor tirelessly and founded the religious order Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in Coogee.

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“Despite her disability she still lived to serve God and serve the poor and certainly we see that in our students,” College Principal Mrs Gail Story told The Catholic Weekly.

“Even though they have a disability they still have a lot to give. One of the things we focus on with our students is to develop resilience for them later in life.”

The school opened in 2016 with just 20 students. Currently they have 68 students from Years 5 to 10. Over the next few years it is hoped the college will run classes for all years from Kindergarten to Year 12 with an Early Intervention Centre and a Centre of Excellence.

“We’ve just opened our Primary School where we offer the full curriculum but in a modified way,” Mrs Story said. “In the secondary years there’s a Life Skills curriculum which is designed for students with a disability.”

Principal at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College, Mrs Gail Story, says the school aims to inspire students with the example of Eileen’s courage in the face of adversity. PHOTO: Supplied

All students at the college undertake a unit on the life of Eileen O’Connor.

“It was really lovely in the first year we were in operation a group of students wrote a beautiful poem—a prayer to Eileen—in really quite simple language. It’s really special because it came from the heart of the students. We still use that prayer around the school.”

The school encourages students to serve others just as Eileen did and offers them the opportunity to support the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society.

“I’ve worked in special education for a long time and I really believe that all students regardless of their level of disability have something to offer. They have the ability to give back.”

“We’ve just started a relationship with St Vincent de Paul on site where students can support Vinnie’s Night Patrol and Breaky Van.”

Mrs Story says the College seeks to create an atmosphere of “high expectations” and learning as well as fun.

“We want our students to enjoy coming to school. But they’re here to learn and we’re here to develop them for life outside of school.”

“Certainly Eileen O’Connor had great resilience in the face of adversity so that’s something we really wish for our students. To set them up for life so they can cope with the challenges that they will come across and to develop personal skills so they can live fulfilling and productive lives in the future.”

Prayer to Eileen O’Connor

Thank you for helping other people.

You were very wise and helpful to everyone.

Even though you were in pain you always helped others, especially the poor.

We want to say thanks for setting up the Brown Sister’s nurses.

We are proud to have your name for our school.


(Written by students at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College Lewisham in 2016)


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