Sister Catherine has received the

7th Oireachtas Human Dignity Award

Many lifetimes of good work packed in to just one life

Sr. Catherine who worked with child victims of drugs in Dublin, directed a medical clinic in Myanmar, and helped set up a rehabilitation hospital in Egypt for paralysed soldiers, has been honoured at a ceremony in Leinster House on Thursday, 14th December.

Sr Catherine Lillis, founder and currently a director of Tabor House addiction treatment centre in Navan, has received the 7th Oireachtas Human Dignity Award from the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, at the request of the Oireachtas Life and Dignity Group. The Human Dignity Award was established by the Group in 2014 to honour individuals or groups whose contribution to the cause of human dignity has been inspiring.

Originally from Kilkee, Co Clare, Sr Catherine joined the Columban Sisters and began her missionary life in Burma, now Myanmar, where she directed the Columbans’ medical clinic in the town of Manbaw. After the military took over in Myanmar, she worked at a Columban TB hospital in Hong Kong. She later established a rehabilitation hospital in Egypt for soldiers paralysed in the conflict with Israel.

Sr Catherine trained as an addiction counsellor in the US during the 1970s. In the 1980s she worked in Dublin’s Saint Teresa’s Gardens for the Health Board and in Navan as a volunteer counsellor. This weekend work led her to establish Tabor House in Navan.

“Sr Catherine has been honoured for her service to humanity on four continents,” says Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD. “It seems like many lifetimes of good work have been packed in to just one life. Certainly not an easy life but she’s had a wonderful life.”

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen, who proposed Sr Catherine for the Award, described her as a “a living lesson to people tempted to despair over the problems in the world”.

“She is a heroic figure, whose motto seems to have been ‘Do as much as you can, for as many as you can’, for as long as you can,” Senator Mullen says. “In nominating Sr Catherine for the Human Dignity Award, we are honouring the woman herself, but also the work of Columban and other missionaries and many lay Irish people worldwide for their superhuman efforts in the cause of human dignity over the years.”

Previous recipients of the Human Dignity Award were Sr Consilio Fitzgerald of Cuan Mhuire, Barney Curley, founder of Direct Aid For Africa, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow founder of Mary’s Meals, Gina Heraty of Our Little Brothers and Sisters Orphanage in Haiti, Ronan Scully of Self-Help Africa and Br Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre.

Sr Catherine received her Award in the presence of family, Columban colleagues, friends and associates of Tabor House, and members of the Dáil and Seanad, on the afternoon of 14th December. There was also an evening fundraiser in support of Tabor House, to help raise funds for a dedicated women’s facility at the centre.


About Sr Catherine Lillis:

Sr Catherine Lillis was born on 23 October, 1929 in Querrin, Kilkee, Co Clare. Both her parents were teachers. Her late brother Jimmy became a Columban priest and her late sister, Margaret became Sr Camillus, a Columban Sister. Both spent their missionary lives in the Philippines.

Sr Catherine spent the early part of her missionary life in the Far East – first in Burma (Myanmar) and later Hong Kong. In these places she first witnessed the dire consequences of substance abuse for individuals and families.

Spurred by this she travelled to the US where she trained as an addiction counsellor in the early 70′s. Her training was based on the Minnesota model of addiction counselling, focusing on abstinence-based therapy. She believed this is the ultimate way to facilitate the restoration of the full person and has pursued this belief throughout her career.

Upon her return to Ireland, Sr Catherine worked in the Rutland Centre (Minnesota Model Treatment Centre) initially and subsequently in Dublin’s Inner City with the Health Board. During this period Sr. Catherine also worked on a voluntary basis in Navan over the weekends – counselling people with addiction and their families. Sr Catherine recognised that for many people suffering from addiction, primary treatment as provided by the private treatment centres was not sufficient. She realised the need for extended secondary treatment and this led to her founding Tabor House with a group of friends and supporters.

One cannot underestimate the determination and dedication of Sr. Catherine in bringing this vision to reality. At the very time that Sr. Catherine set about the fulfilment of her vision, the Policy in Ireland was shifting from residential care for those with addiction to community care. The many programmes being fostered at various locations around the country were methadone based for drug users, and one to one counselling and drop-in centres. Sr. Catherine believed that for many, this was not a satisfactory option and their chances of recovery were slim. With a zeal, that words will not express adequately, Sr. Catherine with a small group of supporters began to knock on the doors of authority, searching for the way to create Tabor House.

When she was not in meetings or helping the countless numbers that became her clients, she was encouraging, her close friends in a flurry of fundraising initiatives, that would help form the financial footing for Tabor House. In 2003 a breakthrough occurred with the North Eastern Health Board and the Department of the Environment and Local Government which sealed the fact that if Tabor House was created, the departments would give Tabor, in part, the necessary support to continue with the work. Refurbishment of the premises came next and the first clients arrived into Tabor House in 2004.

The official opening of the House took place in May 2005 and was performed by President Mary McAleese. The residents of the day together with Sr. Catherine welcomed the president. Mass was celebrated by Reverend Gerry McCormack, Administrator of St. Mary’s Parish Navan. Afterwards, President McAleese delivered a powerful speech which was warmly welcomed by the large attendance. Sr. Catherine responded to the president with some quiet words of gratitude. She referred in her speech to the awesomeness of a thought in her mind becoming a reality and thanked all those present for their work in bringing this vision to fruition.

Tabor House is now developing a similar centre ‘Misneach’ to provide much-needed therapy and support for women recovering from addiction.

Decades ago, Sr Catherine also helped set up a rehabilitation hospital in Egypt to treat soldiers paralysed during the conflict with Egypt which ended with the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979.

Earlier this year, Sr Catherine received a papal award, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, from the Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan, in St Mary’s Church, Navan.

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