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The Word on the Week

Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan was a survivor. She was one of two children born in Massachusetts to famine immigrants from Co Limerick. Following her mother’s death when she was age 8 her father could not cope and placed both herself and her younger brother into an almshouse. The brother died shortly afterwards and Anne, who had developed trachoma when she was age 5, had to deal with the additional burdens of painful eye problems and reduced vision.
Anne received her education at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. While she was there she became friends with Laura Bridgeman, the first deaf blind person to be educated there. During this period in her life she learned sign language and had a number of operations which slowed her sight loss.

At her valediction she addressed her fellow students with these words, “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.”
The year was 1886 and Anne was now age 20. In the providence of God, the Keller family in the State of Alabama contacted the school for someone to teach their 7-year-old deaf blind daughter named Helen. Anne was given the task and went to live with the family. By all accounts Helen was an unruly child but Anne was able to communicate with her. First she taught her letters by drawing shapes on her hands. Then words associated with objects. She was a fast learner and picked up sign language. She learned sounds from placing her hand on Anne’s face while Anne wrote the letters on her free hand.

Anne Sullivan served as Helen Keller’s educator for over a decade and accompanied her to Radcliffe College where she became the first deafblind person to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. They remained together for 50 years till Anne died in 1936.
During her life Helen, who lived till 1968, was a prolific author, a member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labour rights, socialism, anti-militarism, and other similar causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971.
The ‘Miracle Worker’ is a cycle of dramatic works ultimately derived from Helen’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. The various dramas each describe the relationship between Keller and Sullivan, depicting how the teacher led her from an unruly childhood to an intellectual celebrity.
Of course Jesus was the real miracle worker. The problem he had was to stop folk from following him for the benefits of the miracle and to realise that each miracle emphasised that he was God incarnate and they were to believe in him (St John Chapter 6 verses 25 to 29). He then used his Father’s signature – the ‘I Am’ of deity and equated our spiritual hunger being satisfied by coming to him and our spiritual thirst being quenched by believing in him (verse 35).
Some who had seen him perform miracles would not take up this invitation but then comes the gracious promise “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (verses 36 and 37).
Miracles are of limited worth and, unless they lead to faith in Christ, are of no spiritual value for time or eternity. May it be that the women in this blog, who achieved so much, be found in Him on judgement day.