By Annie Driver in Birmingham
Tributes have been paid to Sister Sabina of Sisters of Charity of St. Paul the Apostle, Selly Park after her death on Sunday evening aged 92.
Sister Sabina founded the charity Fireside and has helped the homeless in Birmingham for decades where she treated service users like her own family.
Originally from Limerick, Sister Sabina came to Northfield in 1951 where she joined the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul. She worked as a teacher before moving to Coventry 1959 where she was a headteacher for 33 years at Corpus Christi School before her retirement in 1992.
Upon her retirement she came to Birmingham and worked with the homeless alongside the late Sister Marie Howley. Their work first began providing homeless people with tea and a biscuit. The Sisters realised more funding was needed and decided they would develop a centre for the homeless.
Together they set up the charity Fireside in 1994 to provide homeless people within the city shelter and food with their ethos being ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, so you do unto me’.
In 2007 Sister Sabina joined with SIFA (Supporting Independence from Alcohol) and SIFA Fireside was established. It costs approximately one million pounds a year to run the service which sees between 140 to 160 homeless and vulnerably housed people come through their doors every day. They provide practical support such as food, clothing and showers but also specialist services working with over 50 specialists in mental health, legal aid and housing.
They also provide homeless people with their postal address to send and receive letters which is crucial if they want to seek jobs, housing and benefits. Dogs are welcome in the building as they recognise that people may be more willing to seek help if they have the comfort of their companion.
In 2009, Sister Sabina was recognised for her services in Birmingham and honoured with an MBE from the Queen.
She continued to visit SIFA Fireside weekly until her health deteriorated last month. Chief Executive of SIFA Fireside Carly Jones said of Sister Sabina:
‘Sr Sabina sadly passed away on Sunday evening. She was at the Convent in Selly Park with people she loved around her. While we are incredibly sad that our formidable and wonderful Sabina is no longer with us, she has left an incredible legacy that it will be our honour to continue through our work here at SIFA Fireside. Please remember Sister Sabina in your thoughts and prayers over Christmas. She will be sadly missed but never forgotten’.
Congregation Leader of Sisters of Charity of St. Paul the Apostle, Kathleen Neenan paid tribute to Sister Sabina:
‘The congregation is very grateful that Sister Sabina could contribute so much and so good humouredly to vulnerable people in Birmingham. Not only will she be a sad loss to the congregation but also to the hundreds of friends she made around Birmingham’.
Dr Dawn Casserly Headteacher of St. Paul’s School for Girls said: ‘Sr Sabina visited St Paul’s each year to launch our Fireside Christmas appeal.
‘She would have the girls and staff literally laughing and crying with the warm, real and dynamic sharing of her experiences working with the homeless. She had the amazing capacity to relate so effectively to everyone because like St John Henry Newman Sr Sabina communicated “heart unto heart”.
‘She has inspired generations of St Paul’s Girls by her authentic faith and love in action and she leaves a heart print on our lives of all that is noble, honourable and true.’
Popular Birmingham broadcaster Bob Brolly said: ‘I have known Sr. Sabina for over 60 years. She dedicated her life to others in many ways as a teacher and headteacher and raised so much money for the homeless through the Fireside.
‘She was unique in every sense of the word and will be sadly missed.
‘She was brilliant all her life and worked so hard. She had a wonderful sense of humour and will be missed in Birmingham’.