Sr Joan O’Leary worked in the female surgical ward of the Mercy Hospital, during her time there she became aware of young women who would be admitted mostly during the weekend with injuries from alcohol abuse, assaults and from self harm. The challenge for the nursing staff was to get these young women ready for discharge to allow the planned surgery cases to be admitted on the Sunday night each week. Joan noticed that quite a few of these young women returned a number of times and their stories began to weigh on her mind. At the time when she was doing reflective work on her ministry as a Mercy sister these young women were in the forefront of her thoughts and a strong sense of the situation needing to be addressed. Joan spoke to the leadership of the Mercy sisters at the time and it was agreed that some research would be done.
The research clearly showed that a major need in Cork city at the time was the plight of a number of teenage girls. A dream took shape and that was to have a lovely home for these young women with flower boxes and a light in the window.
Joan gave up her nursing career in September 1992, and the first brick was laid in May 1994 on the site of the Orchard in the Saint Maries of the Isle Convent, in the heart of Cork City. The purpose built building was finished in January 1995 and the first young woman moved in on 19th September 1995.
The residential centre was called Wellsprings to signify the relationship between those delivering the service and the young women and the vision that both were enriched from meeting each other. The name is based on the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and how though she was not accepted by the local community, He broke the law of that time by talking to her, and she was enriched because of that encounter.
The outreach aftercare service was born out of that relationship as it wasn’t about closing the file and saying goodbye once the young woman moved on from the residential centre. At first support was given to the young women who moved out in the early days by the residential staff team. Later when funding became available dedicated aftercare hours were put in place. In 2008 the Sisters refurbished an existing building in the grounds of their secondary school which is in an adjacent street to the residential service. This house is called Bethany and is very much part of the continuum of service that is provided by Wellsprings. The name signifies the place where Jesus went to meet his friends and share a meal with them and how he was refreshed by his time there.
Joan continues to work with Wellsprings Services and is an outreach worker in Bethany.