Sr. Agnes Jerome’s Legacy

By Karen Bil Ratzlaff

As a new school year starts, we are reminded of one Sister who chose to work with children who would never be able to read or write or do simple math. What motivated this teacher to reach out to the “unteachable”?

It started with John, a boy with Down’s Syndrome.

Sr. Agnes Jerome Murphy wondered what more could be done to help John have a better life. So at Star of the Sea School in Honolulu where she originally taught 8th grade, Sister developed a curriculum for students with mental retardation. Later, when these students were “mainstreamed,” she turned her attention to the severely handicapped–kids who were often deformed, and given to head banging, skin picking and indiscriminate shouting. Most couldn’t talk. She chose to work with these children because no one else would. They were considered hopeless, but she saw them as “works of God.”

With two rooms and a $3000 loan she created a day-care program of “last resort.”

She grew this work into the Special Education Center of Oahu (SECO) which expanded to include mentally challenged adults and senior citizens with dementia. Not only did the clientele served grow but the facilities did too with a state-of-the-art campus at the base of Diamond Head.

Sr. Roberta Julie Derby said of Sr. Agnes, “Besides her special talent for working with this group of clients and for selecting and directing other professionals to serve them, Sr. Agnes would spend many hours during each legislative session persuading State lawmakers to allot funds to meet the needs of those who are doubly and sometimes trebly poor; economically, physically and intellectually. She was also gifted at inspiring (and cajoling) a number of prominent citizens to give various kinds of support, including actor Tom Selleck who participated in benefit softball games.”

Sr. Agnes died in 2002 but thanks to her compassion, hard work and vision, thousands of children and adults have received the support and care they need and deserve. Today SECOH continues her good work.