Ashleigh Molloy follows Vanier’s path

  • December 9, 2010
Ashleigh MolloyTORONTO - Long-time special education advocate Ashleigh Molloy credits Jean Vanier with showing him the way.

It is Vanier, the founder of the worldwide L’Arche movement, and his message that working with people with special needs is a blessing, not a burden, that Molloy has carried throughout his more than two decades of work as a Catholic school teacher and father of a daughter with Down Syndrome.

It’s this work that led to Molloy being honoured by the Toronto Association of Catholic Parents in Education (TAPCE) at a Nov. 29 ceremony with a lifetime achievement award.

TAPCE director Anthony Bertani said Molloy’s career has been dedicated to the service of Catholic education.

“His keynote presentations to Catholic conferences as both an educator and Right to Life speaker throughout the world demonstrates his faith-filled commitment to our religious principles and universal Gospel values,” Bertani said.

When his daughter, Lindsey, was born with Down Syndrome, Molloy’s faith was tested. But he also came to see how the label “disabilities” can be misleading because his daughter was a gift to his family. And it has helped him in his education career.

“Out of the darkness, only now I can look back and say what a joy Lindsey has been in our lives, how she has given my life purpose,” he said. “I think that, for me, the fundamental thing about being involved in Catholic education, it’s very important that you create a sense of welcomeness in a community.”

On the delivery of special education in schools, he said there has been a shift in thinking from seeing children as “disabled” to being “differently abled.” This shift is important given that more students with special needs are attending Catholic schools, he said.

“As educators, our job is to unwrap that gift and let that light shine,” said Molloy.

Bringing all students into one classroom, Molloy said, is important because they need to learn to live together. Inclusion of all students, regardless of race or ability, is a “human right.”

Molloy’s work has been recognized throughout the years with numerous awards including the Order of Ontario Medal from the lieutenant governor for leadership in education and humanitarian outreach in 2006. In 2008, he was inducted as a Princeton Award recipient recognizing Molloy as a global leader in education.

Born in Ireland, Molloy is president of the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto, is Canadian representative on the Down Syndrome International World Congress and chair of the parish council at St. Isaac Jogues parish in Pickering, Ont.

Molloy, 52, credits his faith, friends and family, including his wife, Michelle, daughter Ashley and son Justin, for providing the inspiration and support for his work.

“My faith was nurtured through Catholic education,” he said.

Molloy, who travels frequently to speak at international conferences as director of the Transformation Education Institute, says no matter which church he visits, he is comforted by the community of faith.

“When you’re at church, at the Eucharist, you’re at home,” he said.

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