Irish nun given prestigious honour for six decades of teaching

Sr Berchmans awarded Benedict Medal for her education efforts in Pakistan

Archbishop of Westminster  Vincent Nichols, Sr Berchmans, Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK Muhammad Naseem Zaharia and Irish Ambassador Adrian O’Neill at a ceremony in Westminster Cathedral. Photograph: Sam Yarnold

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, Sr Berchmans, Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK Muhammad Naseem Zaharia and Irish Ambassador Adrian O’Neill at a ceremony in Westminster Cathedral. Photograph: Sam Yarnold

 

Sr Berchmans, born Bernadette Conway in Feakle, Co Clare, was given the prestigious Benedict Medal at a ceremony in Britain’s Westminster Cathedral this morning in recognition of more than six decades of teaching in Pakistan.

The medal, given by St Mary’s University, Twickenham, rewards significant contributions to education, interfaith relations and public life. Sr Berchmans is the fifth person to receive the award, and the first female recipient.

Born in 1929, Sr Berchmans grew up in Clashmore, and was the second youngest of four children. She completed her novitiate in Gortnor Abbey, Co Mayo, before joining the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary at the age of 22.

She was sent to the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1953, and taught Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Hindu children. Her teaching would also take her to convents in Murree and Karachi.

Sr Berchmans’s former students include Nobel Prize-winning MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala and late former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols presented the award, and thanked Sr Berchmans for her dedication and commitment to interfaith relations.

“She has been a constant inspiration to many generations of teachers and students. We would do well to imitate her.”

Lifetime of work

The high commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, was also in attendance at the ceremony.

In 2012, Berchmans was given the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, one of Pakistan’s most prestigious civil awards. The high commissioner thanked Sr Berchmans for her lifetime of work in Pakistan.

“She has the distinction of having among her students those who reached the highest point in their career. You can see the amount of love that Sr Berchmans has in Pakistan.”

Mr Zakaria also paid tribute to her commitment to values of interfaith tolerance.

“There are hundreds of well-maintained churches in Pakistan, looked after by the common people, Muslim people. So this is a message of love and interfaith harmony.”