Billy Keane: Suzie - the saint with attitude, a sense of fun and an orphanage
THE old nun was in a half- way house somewhere between this world and the next. She was tiny, wrinkled and feeble. Somehow you felt her body was only a frame for a forever spirit but she had the bright eyes of the young girl who left her home in north Kerry so many years ago.
She was an O'Shea herself from near Lisselton. Her nun's name and her order I cannot remember. The sister used to bring my mother little carved elephants. We still have them.
There she would be sipping her orange in our bar. Dressed in her sky-blue nun's gown, smiling serenely, and enjoying the treat. She found an inner peace only the good can reach.
This little saint will never be made blessed. Her only memorial was a simple cross in a graveyard in India where the poorest of the poor are laid to rest.
So to Suzie O'Connell, who is 40 this year. She set up Outreach Moldova when she was a medical student in Trinity College Dublin.
Moldova is a poor country and had been ruled by the Soviet Union for many years. Soviet policy was to dump abandoned kids with a physical or mental illness in an orphanage. The kids were lifers. Moldova is a democracy now and Outreach Moldova provides support services for the locals.
Suzie's accent is southside Dublin and somehow it went into my head that a travel agent had made a crazy mistake and sent her to Moldova instead of St Tropez.
She doesn't really want to talk about herself that much. I trick the story out of her, but slowly. She tells of the first time she came to Moldova.
"I just fell in love with the kids. I made them a promise I would come back. It was their eyes that did it. When you look in the children's eyes..."
Skip this bit if you aren't able for it.
The rats came out of the sewers at night. One baby's face was eaten off by a hungry rat because there was a smidgen of food on her cheek. The kids were constantly screaming and they were covered in sores and excrement. Many had gone mad.
Just a few hours away from Ireland by plane -- here in Europe -- was hell on Earth.
Suzie took two years out from her studies in TCD to help out in the orphanage.
The day she finished her internship, Suzie was on a plane to Moldova. ''Suzie is just an ordinary person," said my daughter Laura who, along with her pal Aine O'Connor, helped out this summer in the orphanage.
"She's lovely and good fun, but she's definitely like a saint, a human saint. The kids love her.''
Laura and Aine were clever. They recruited every babe in north Kerry to collect money from all over Listowel. Their friend from up the road is Miss Ireland Universe. Aoife Hannon was only allowed to collect if she wore a short skirt. She did. They all did. And the money rolled in.
The little ones suffer their share of terrible ailments, but the orphanage is comfortable and clean. The children are so well cared for by the local staff. There are other orphanages where the kids are less fortunate.
Suzie has a temper too. Suzie is a saint with attitude
"If this place fails, God only knows what will happen to the orphans. The donations from home have dropped and I understand that but kids are kids.''
There's a fundraising dinner on in TCD on October 19 and former president Mary McAleese will be speaking. There are still a few tables left.
Galia has Down syndrome and is in poor health. She is Suzie's oldest, at 53, and the poor girl has been in orphanages since the day she was born.
''My wish is to get our kids back into society. Get them back to families.'' Suzie is almost crying with frustration now. It's not going to be easy but maybe she can do it.
Jesus, but while I was talking to her, I felt so proud to be Irish. So proud of this young woman, who continues a selfless missionary tradition going back hundreds and hundreds of years.
In Moldova, in deep and darkest December, it gets as cold as -40. The Irish volunteers who left a month ago will not be back until next summer.
''Do you miss home then Suzie?''
''With all my heart. I'm here for good now, but I get back to Ireland for a week every year.''
Her dad, Des, moved out to Moldova after her mother died. He has been very ill but he wants to be with his little girl. He's a Kerryman, from Derrynane.
They took a newborn in last week as there's no sign of his parents. Dima is their youngest now.
Outreach Moldova provides support services for a baby's orphanage in the city and that will be Dima's new home.
No baby will be more loved.
www.outreachmoldova.org Phone 01 -219 0268 Donations to Outreach Moldova, Suite 104, DMG House, Deansgrange Business Park, Deansgrange, Co Dublin