Caring and sharing in the Spirit of Jesus

Thursday, April 14, 2016

 Caring and sharing in the Spirit of Jesus
Easter, day 19
Anne Sullivan/Helen Keller
Yesterday, we reflected on how the Spirit of Jesus shows itself in our actions.   Today’s birthday person was one whose actions make a great statement of love.  

Today is the birthday of Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan (1866-1936), known as Anne Sullivan, who spent her life in a special kind of caring service to Helen Keller.  Anne’s family came from Ireland during the potato famine (1845-1852) and settled in Massachusetts.  When Anne was 8 years old, she contracted a bacterial eye disease, trachoma, which caused her painful infections and made her nearly blind.   The same year her  mother died and two years later, her father abandoned Anne and  her younger brother, Jimmie.   The two of them ended up in an almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, Jimmie died 3 months later and Anne remained there for four years.  During that time, she did as much housework as she could with her poor eyesight and had some eye surgeries which were not helpful.  When she was 14 years old, she was allowed to enroll in the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. While in school, she had eye procedures that greatly improved her vision.   Because she had only a few work and personal skills, she had a rough time but was befriended by Laura Bridgman, who was the first graduate of Perkins and the first deaf and blind person to be educated there. 

When Anne was 20 years old, she graduated from the school as the valedictorian of her class.  The summer after she graduated, she was employed by Arthur Keller to teach his daughter, Helen Keller, in their home in Tuscumbia, Alabama.  The two girls connected immediately and their relationship morphed through the next 49 years from teacher and student to companions and friends. 
Anne was a great teacher, but she found that she had to- and was willing too- adjust her teaching methods to respond to the way Helen wanted to learn.  Eventually, Helen was enrolled in the Perkins School and because of her advancement brought fame to the Perkins school  making it the most popular school for the blind in the country. Anne and Helen were friends for life and were each awarded honorary fellowships from the Educational Institute of Scotland  and Temple University.   Anne was also awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University.
When she graduated as valedictorian of her class Anne told her classmates:
“Fellow-graduates: duty bids us go forth into active life.
Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part.
When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it.”
I think she found her “especial part”
and cared and shared in the spirit of Jesus.

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