Irish nun awarded prestigious medal for teaching and promoting interfaith relations in Pakistan

Wed 17 Jul 2019
By Ruth Sax

A Catholic university has awarded an Irish nun a medal for her life's work as a teacher in Pakistan.

St Mary's University in London has awarded Sister Berchmans the Benedict Medal in recognition of a lifetime of teaching and promoting interfaith relations in Pakistan at a ceremony in Westminster Cathedral today.

The medal, which is the Catholic University's highest honour, will be presented to Sr Berchmans by the Archbishop of Westminster and Chancellor of St Mary's University, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, during a St Mary's Summer Graduation Ceremony.



Sr Berchmans was born in Country Clare, Ireland, in 1930 and joined the Convent of Jesus and Mary in 1951 in Willesden, London. She spent almost 70 years teaching, mostly in Pakistan, where she taught Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Hindu children at the Convents of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Murree and Karachi.

In 2012, whilst she was Principal of the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi, Sr Berchmans was awarded the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, one of the highest civil awards given by the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The award was given for her "constant adherence to the call of duty over a span of 59 years, which has made Sister Berchmans a living example to emulate."

During her teaching career, Sr Berchmans taught and inspired thousands of students, amongst whom are the late Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, and renowned MIT Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala who made significant contributions to research which resulted in the first observation of gravitational waves and which was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Sr Berchmans will become the fifth recipient, and the first woman, to be presented with the Benedict Medal, joining previous recipients Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all-Ireland, Former Archbishop of Canterbury Baron Williams of Oystermouth, and Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former Chief Executive of Ofsted and alumnus of St Mary's.

Speaking of the award, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said: "Sr Berchmans' dedication and commitment to the thousands of students she has taught is an inspiration to anyone committed to the vocation of teaching. We are honoured that we will be able to present her with the Benedict Medal during our Graduation Ceremony. Her examples of inclusivity and respect will guide our graduates as they embark on their own teaching journeys and continue to inspire future generations."

Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom HE Adrian O'Neill said: "I am honoured to represent the Irish Government at the presentation of the Benedict Medal to Sr Berchmans. The Government is acutely conscious of the record of service and achievement overseas of many Irish citizens across our diaspora. Sr Berchmans is an outstanding exemplar of such service; her generous, sustained and distinguished contribution to education and mutual understanding has made a lasting impact, over several generations, in Pakistan. She is a very worthy recipient of the Benedict Medal, of whom her fellow Irish citizens are very proud."

Baroness Warsi, former Senior British Foreign Minister and a Visiting Professor at St Mary's University, added: "Sr Berchmans has given her whole hearted commitment to teaching. She has inspired generations of students, who have gone on to make significant contributions to society across a wide range of sectors.

"I had the privilege of visiting Sr Berchmans in Karachi and I saw at first-hand how her work and presence has created a lifetime of inter faith understanding.

"Like her students, colleagues and peers I am delighted that Sr Berchmans is receiving the Benedict Medal from St Mary's University as part of their summer graduation ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

"It will be a fitting occasion for someone, who has given their life to education and to helping young people achieve their dreams."


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