In the 1950’s most people with disabilities lived their lives in isolation and were often ostracised from their communities. Many were pushed into institutions – they were fed and watered but not much else. They were kept alive. Their individual background was not a matter of concern.
Elizabeth Fitzroy – a single lady – adopted Michael who had Down’s Syndrome. She wanted him to be able to do the things he loved and be part of the community. She was aware that the support she received from her mother and her friends was not always given to other parents with children suffering from disabilities. They did not always receive the same period of respite as she received.
In 1956 she arranged a meeting in the Diocese of Westminster. Many people, including John Williams who had travelled from Coventry, attended the meeting. John and his wife Audrey had a son Huw. He suffered from TB meningitis and was severely disabled. A consultant paediatrician suggested they place Huw in an institution and get on with their lives.
Those attending shared the same vision as Elizabeth and John of a better life for people with disabilities. From this meeting the Catholic Handicapped Children’s Fellowship was founded. As needs changed so did our title - today we are known as the Catholic Fellowship – “caring and supporting people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.”
The St Bernadette Club, a voluntary and non-denominational organisation, began in 1962 when a group of forward thinking individuals met with Elizabeth in Newcastle. They too shard the same vision of supporting children with a wide range of and levels of disabilities and at the same time offering a period of respite to their parents and carers.
Over the years it has become apparent from the many requests made by parents and carers that the need for support has changed, shifting our focus from working with vulnerable children to working with vulnerable adults, for whom very little provision - if any at all - exists. Consequently, our aims have changed to support those needs. However, many of the children who attended the Club in those early days are still members today.
Anyone who can benefit from the aims of the St Bernadette Club will always be made most welcome - regardless of their age.