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Sister Cyril

Barry O' Brien recalls Sister Cyril as 'Mother Teresa of Education'

Education for Sister Cyril was never one size fits all

Barry O’Brien | Published 25.06.23, 08:54 PM


I fondly called Sister M. Cyril Mooney the 'Mother Teresa of Education'. What Mother Teresa did for the homeless, Sister Cyril, an Irish-origin educator, did through education. More than other missionaries, she had realised that the crux of imparting knowledge was to provide it to all strata of society and be inclusive.

Although other missionaries shared the realisation that education was being received mainly by the middle class and elite sections of the society, Sister Cyril became the torchbearer of providing education to all in the same place with the same passion.


Given that she has added to my knowledge bank in more than one way, I remember the day we discussed “real estate”. She asked me to visit Loreto School, Sealdah, so that I could understand her work more closely.

As we walked around the school premises, she said, 'Every inch of a school should be put to use every waking hour.' Most of the schools are empty post 4pm and silence prevails. She was concerned about making use of the time and space they had before 6am and post 4pm as well, this is when children were provided night shelter in school as part of the Rainbow Project.

The entire school felt like a home with the Rainbow children cooking and keeping the classroom, where they would later sleep, clean. Loreto School, Sealdah, was a space much safer than the railway platforms of Sealdah station where these children would roam around without the presence of their mothers, who would work throughout the day, and in most cases absent fathers.

Not only did Sister Cyril provide shelter but also made sure to enroll them depending on where they fit in, be it in Loreto Sealdah or any other English-medium school. Her sense of practicality was such that she also got children to take a bridge course and the ones that couldn't be a part of that were admitted to a Bengali-medium school. Education, for her, was never ‘one size fits all’, she came up with varying solutions for different individuals.

During the mid-1800s, Irish sisters preceding Sister Cyril were invited by the Christian Brothers in Kolkata with the sole purpose of providing education to the needy Anglo-Indian children, but in her time — which was the 60s, 70s and 80s — the sole function had changed to teaching all children in need.

While I fondly recollect hers as a life fully lived, I can't forget to mention that she was in love with Kolkata, and a walking reminder of what educators must do. Sister Cyril was also someone that The Telegraph Education Foundation owes a great deal to, given it was her words that inspired us to come with multiple themes such as 'Child Labour', 'Child on the Street', and 'Girl Child'. To have her leave this world is a huge loss, but her work continues and I hope more schools get to know about her life.

The writer is an educationist and author.

(As told to Nitin Waghela)

Last updated on 25.06.23, 08:54 PM

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