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Interview with Paula

Pj and C

The name Paula Jordan is familiar to a lot of people, whether you know her or not! She has so many strings to her bow: music, drama, education etc., so it was great when she 'granted' me an interview for tullylish.com.

Paula, you have been involved in many aspects of Parish life for many years. How important is ‘parish’ to you?

Parish is very important to me as it helps identify who I am. I think to truly know who you are, you have to belong somewhere and to belong somewhere you have to be part of somewhere.

For me that “somewhere” is Tullylish Parish.

I am part of the Tullylish family and therefore, as in any family, I have a place, jobs and responsibilities within that family. I always know that there are people who are there for me and that I can call on no matter what happens. It is very comforting to know that there are always people there on whom you can rely, no matter what the situation may be.

You have also been involved in Adult Faith Development for many years, so obviously your faith is important to you. Do you find this ministry rewarding?

Yes, although it is not always an easy ministry, as it challenges you to know what you believe and what you know yourself, before you try to share that with someone else.

It is a huge responsibility to help someone develop their faith, but one which we all do every day, in living a Christian life and sharing our faith with those around us in our Parish and those with whom we come in contact every day.

Adult Faith Development challenges us to really think about our beliefs and to share that with someone else on a very personal level. You have to be prepared to discuss what you believe and why you believe it and try to guide someone else, not to take on your beliefs, but to develop their own belief and faith. I have been involved in this ministry for over twenty years now and have been privileged to share in the faith development of a number of adults of varying ages, from a variety of backgrounds, who have decided to practise Catholicism for many reasons. It is always a privilege to watch someone, who has decided that this is something of importance to them, begin to develop their faith.

It is of course a life-long process for us all, but those of us born into the faith develop it gradually, without even being aware of it - we just accept it and grow with it. It is developed by watching and listening to those around us. Often we do not even know that it is happening! However, when an adult makes the decision to enter faith development, it is a very different situation. This is something which requires great courage and commitment and challenges the beliefs already held. I feel that I am in a very privileged position, to be able to share in that growth and watch someone develop in their newly held beliefs and faith.

Paula, you are Principal in Sperrinview Special School in Dungannon.  

Yes. I have been in Sperrinview for fifteen and a half years, firstly as Vice Principal for eight years, then as Principal for the last seven and a half years. Sperrinview is a wonderful place to work and what makes it so special are the pupils and the staff. We have 101 pupils, aged between 3 and 19 years. All of the pupils have severe or profound learning difficulties and many have additional complex medical needs or severe challenging behaviours.

Being with these children and young people and getting to know them and their families and the challenges they face on a daily basis really helps to put life into perspective. We all moan and groan about this problem or that issue, and I am no different (in fact I probably complain more than most); however, my experiences with our children and young people have taught me to be very grateful for the life I have, my family, friends, parish and network of support.

Our pupils face challenges everyday, which most of us would simply crumble under.

Those with communication difficulties struggle to make their needs known and understood;
those with challenging behaviours are often only trying to express their fears and frustrations;
those with complex medical conditions struggle just to survive each day, depending on those around them to administer medication, feed them and deal with their most basic and intimate care needs.

Life must be so difficult when you are so dependent on others, yet for the most part, our children greet each day with a smile and each person with love and acceptance. They don’t care whether you are fat or thin, tall or short, which Church you attend or what colour your skin is, they simply accept and love those who care for them and show them compassion and acceptance each day. It is in the faces of our pupils and their families that I see true Christianity at work each day.

The families of these young people are also exceptional. Again, they deal with issues every day, which the rest of us often never even have to think about or consider. Everything in the lives of the parents, siblings and often extended families change when a child with severe learning difficulties comes into the family. Life is not always easy for the families, and they require much support, understanding and compassion from their friends and parish community, but as people understand more about what they face each day and services continue to improve, the outlook also improves.

Thankfully education for children with learning difficulties has been a priority for many years now. Our schools are very well equipped and staff are generally committed, well trained, and most importantly, see their jobs as a vocation. As with everything in life, we always continue to try to improve. Education and the services for young adults when they are leaving school can always get better, and it is my job to see that we all try to work together in Sperrinview to try to achieve this, by ensuring that each young person leaves school with as much independence in every aspect of their life as possible

I am blessed to have a job that I love, in a place as wonderful as Sperrinview. Both the pupils and their families and the staff are wonderful, but don’t get me wrong, life is far from perfect. We have some very difficult days and difficult situations. When working with children with challenging behaviours, staff and even sometimes pupils can get hurt. We often end up in casualty or with ambulances in school and I have even had a few cracked ribs and a broken nose myself along the way! We naturally become very close to our pupils and their families, and when a child dies, as can happen with our children with complex medical needs, we also feel that loss deeply and struggle to come to terms with it, but I wouldn’t change my job for anything. I love it!

My journey to this vocation came about through a variety of paths. My parents and family obviously had a huge impact as had my education and this combined with growing up with a very close friend who had a younger sister with a learning difficulty put me on the path to Sperrinview. Along the way I was fortunate enough to spend time developing my skills in Donard, Ceara and Knockevin Special Schools and in the development of services for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. I have been very fortunate and owe so much to so many people who have assisted me to where I am today.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I sing in Banbridge Ladies Community Choir under the direction of Norman Brown. We perform for charitable causes – Lynn is also in the choir.

I love reading, especially murder mysteries. Favourite authors are James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell or Michael Connolly. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan – I love all the books.

Music? Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, James Taylor, the Who, Ry Cooder, John Denver, Christy Moore, Mary Coughlan etc. The list is endless. I just love all music (except Country and Western!)

Do you have any hobbies? Knitting – toys – in the winter!

What do you do to relax? Reading, listening to music, or going to Donegal with friends!

Has your faith changed over the years - and if so, how?

Yes it has. I have always had a strong faith but when I was younger I didn’t think about it. I took it for granted. I think, as I have become older I am much more reliant on my faith and realise how important it is to me. I do question what I believe, but I don’t think I could get through a day without it. My favourite prayer is “O Sacred Heart of Jesus; I place all my trust in thee” – that’s the prayer to get me through different situations. By nature I am very nervous so that little prayer has got me through everything, from reading at Mass to singing on a stage, or dealing with the most difficult situations in school. I also say the Rosary every day – and have done for years. It sets me up for the day. My faith has become much more personal and important to me as I get older.

If you were given the power to change three things what would they be?

The three words that come to my mind immediately are: Poverty, Violence and Abuse.

I mean all kinds of poverty – material things and poverty of spirit.

All kinds of violence – from personal to global.

All forms of abuse, from the abuse of individuals to the abuse of power.

When I see the difficulty that our parents, young people and families in school face through lack of understanding, lack of post 19 provision and the insensitivity of others, I get really angry. It is ignorance in its truest form – people don’t know the reality of the situation, make assumptions and then act on those assumptions. If all those people who do stupid things could spend time with our children, they would know and see what really matters in life. Our children don’t care about colour, religion, or the size or shape you are. As long as you treat them with dignity and respect, they will return it a thousand fold.

I know how lucky I am, I have an amazing family, I have amazing friends and I have a job that I love. I appreciate and give thanks for it all.

Thanks to Paula for this wonderful interview – although, to get Paula to talk about herself is not an easy task! Any of us lucky enough to be called her friend, know how inspirational she is to anyone fortunate enough to cross her path. Well done P.J. 



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