IBVM nun receives India's highest civilian award

Sr. Cyril Mooney IBVMSr. Cyril Mooney IBVM

A Catholic nun has been honoured with one of India's highest civilian awards.

Sister Cyril Mooney of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been awarded the Padma Shri award for social service.

Sister Mooney works with poor children in Kolkata, Born in Ireland, on July 21, 1936, she arrived in India in October 1956. She has a PhD in Zoology, which she acquired at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh state.

She began her work with child-to-child outreach programmes in 1964 in Lucknow. She took college and school students each Saturday into the surrounding villages and sent them every evening to slums in the city to teach children who did not go to school. She also ran programs to liberate domestic workers from exploitative professional moneylenders.

Sr Mooney arrived in Kolkata in 1973 where she worked at Loreto House for six years. In 1975 she organised a Social Justice Exhibition which showcased the difference between the rich and the poor in terms of wages earned for work done, types of health and educational facilities available, service facilities, ratios of residential space available, and analysed the causes and suggested remedies.

Sr Mooney was transferred to Loreto Sealdah in January 1979 when the school was on a very low key. With her wisdom, grit and experience she opened up the school to the poorest of the poor. Now, it has about ,400 students, 50 per cent of whom are from financially deprived backgrounds.

She introduced programmes like barefoot teachers training, hidden domestic child labour programme, Rainbow Educational programme, child-to-child village programme, Shikshalaya Prakalpa (working under the Sarva Siksha Abhyan to train 1400 teachers to teach 26,000 deprived children in the slums of Kolkata, in collaboration with about 60 NGOs of the city, CLPOA and KRGEDUC of which she is convenor.

She is also responsible for creating a system of value education, which has been introduced in many schools all over India. This has developed into a new course on Human Rights Education and introduced in about 50 government schools as well as other secondary schools here in West Bengal.

The creation of the Rainbow Homes concept began with her initiative, where girls from the street are housed in big schools, which are usually empty from 4pm to 8am. There are four such homes catering to 600 children. Recently she held a seminar for over 80 principals from all over the country to spread this challenging concept.

The Padma Shri Award is a recognition of her works in the field of education. By living the charism inherited from Mary Ward, the foundress of IBVM, she has shown how the poor can be served within the structure.

Among the many awards she has received are the UNESCO International Award, the NOMA Award for spreading literacy among the poorest (1994), the Telegraph Award for Social Service (seven times), the Hall of Fame (2005), the Telegraph Award for creative excellence (2000), International Christian Stewardship Award Toronto (2002) and many others.