In March 1945, two letters were sent to the Department defending the Sisters’ decision to allow the children go barefoot in the summer, and requesting that the Department should reconsider its direction to acquire sandals. One of these letters appears to be from a doctor or pharmacist living locally, and the other was from Dr Peter Birch, the Bishop of Ossory. In a letter which he claimed was unsolicited by the Sisters, Dr Birch asked that the edict in relation to the boys going barefoot be reconsidered. He suggested that the boys loved the freedom of playing barefoot in the summer, and most children in ordinary homes would be allowed this freedom.
The report further stated that, in an effort to cope with this problem in May 1969, a small group of the most disturbed children was placed in a house in Kilkenny donated by Bishop Birch, under the care of one of the Sisters, and the children were treated in every respect like an ordinary family. This project, initially an experiment, was a great success, and it became clear that efforts like this would eliminate many of the problems in St Joseph’s.
On 12th September 1969, Bishop Birch followed up this proposal by formally requesting the Department for financial assistance to enable St Joseph’s to carry out the programme of reconstruction which would bring the Institution in line with modern thinking on childcare.
She said she never discussed the letter with Bishop Birch and never met him about it. It was only on reading the letter more recently that she understood that he was trying to help the boys but, at the time, she was happy to see the back of Donal Kavanagh.
Despite running the childcare course in residential care in Kilkenny, she was living with a residential institution on her doorstep, and she knew nothing about what was going on inside it. Sr Wilma attended a number of meetings with Bishop Birch and the Department of Education. She also signed a report on proposed changes about to take place in St Joseph’s. She acknowledged that a newspaper article written by her in 1999, which asserted that she had nothing whatsoever to do with St Joseph’s, was not entirely accurate.
Sr Wilma said the idea came from Bishop Birch, and she drew up an outline for the course which was presented to the Department of Education. They agreed to fund it, and it was eventually recognised as an official qualification in residential childcare, and was also recognised by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work in London. Both she and Mr Pat Brennan31 had considerable experience in social work and working with children, but neither of them had actually worked in residential childcare.
Mr Brennan, who was the Director of the Kilkenny Diploma Course in Residential Childcare, described the course and the training it offered. The course, which ran for 10 years from 1971 to 1981, came about as a result of the recommendations in the Kennedy Report. Bishop Birch offered the Department of Education a house in Kilkenny, and the Bishop sponsored and designed the course. Mr Brennan was acquainted with Bishop Birch and was offered the job of running the course. Sr Wilma was one of the lecturers on the course on a part-time basis. Students who attended the course were sent on placements for in-house training, and St Joseph’s was one of the placement centres. He believed that Sr Wilma was the supervisor of the placements in St Joseph’s; it was considered to be her domain and, as a result, he had very little to do with St Joseph’s.