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Eagle eye, heart of gold, pillar of strength: memories of Sister Cyril

Former Loreto students share their experiences with the pioneering Irish nun and educator

Nayantara Mazumder | Published 27.06.23, 01:24 PM
Sister Cyril with children

Sister Cyril with children

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If there were to be one word used to describe Sister M. Cyril Mooney – known by all as Sister Cyril – it would be ‘revolutionary’. The Irish-born Catholic nun, who came to India in 1956 at the age of 20, passed away last week at the age of 86. A Sister of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Cyril was a pioneer in the field of education and social justice, having transformed the lives of countless young girls who may never have gained access to English-medium education without her intervention.

With her groundbreaking Rainbow Project in 1983, Sister Cyril created a social and educational framework that involved privileged students of English-medium schools teaching girls from street-dwelling families and under-privileged backgrounds beyond stipulated school hours. The Rainbow Project went from strength to strength, with teachers and nuns from Loreto schools everywhere following her example.


For the massive difference she made to the lives of young, poverty-stricken girls and for upholding education as a fundamental right for all, the former principal of Loreto House and Loreto Sealdah was conferred the Padma Shri in 2007. The news of her passing sent ripples of grief and shock through the community of educators, students, friends and well-wishers who knew her, had worked with or had been taught by her. My Kolkata spoke to some former students and teachers of Loreto House, Loreto Sealdah and Loreto Dharamtala – all of whose lives Sister Cyril had touched. Their words and memories of Sister Cyril bear testimony to her legacy.

Neelanjana Majumdar, Loreto House, 1977

Not only was Sister Cyril my principal when I was a student at Loreto House, but I also had the privilege of working with her from 1987 till she retired – so, for a period of 23-24 years – when I was a teacher at Loreto Sealdah and she was the principal there. There was so much to learn from Sister Cyril as a student – she was a mentor and a guide for everyone working with her or studying under her watchful eye. She was a pillar of strength, who stood by us in every decision we took. She believed in us.

And for students, she was like a mother – young children would feel safe enough to open up to her and pour their hearts out. She guided them, loved them, and, most importantly, understood their potential and enabled them to do their best. Under her Rainbow project, young underprivileged girls were able to be a part of regular classes, as well, and given that many of them needed more attention, we as teachers were empowered and always ready to provide that. There will truly never be another like Sister Cyril.

Devjani Mitra, Loreto House, ICSE batch 1977

With Sister Cyril’s passing, a part of our childhood and teenage years are gone. She was a very big influence in my life; I even worked closely with her for a brief period, for her Rainbow Project. I remember incidents when she was loving and reprimanding, but she taught us to spread our wings and fly high.

Sister Cyril made school years fun, with less restrictions and more freedom, which is probably why my school years at LH were the best years of my life. I fondly remember the Thakurpukur project, where she let us plan the design of a village to include schools and health clinics, and let us create it under her wonderful guidance. She gave us lessons on the birds and the bees, and taught us to respect the physical union of man and woman as the phenomenon that gave birth to a beautiful new life! She changed our views on relationships and sex at a very tender age. Alongside this, she gave us a whole day each month dedicated to Moral Science, where we were taught values, respect for others, kindness, compassion and how to hold our heads high and develop the strength to combat any situation in life.

I had the privilege of flying with her from Kolkata to London the year after ICSE, and we chatted through the duration of the flight as friends, reliving our years at school with her. So many life lessons taught to us by Sister Cyril in our formative years have shaped our lives. May she rest in eternal peace and continue to be our guiding force in mind, heart and spirit.

Ayesha Gooptu Mazumder, Loreto House, ICSE 1981, HS 1983

For me, Sister Cyril was synonymous with my alma mater, Loreto House, while she was principal there. A giant among men, women and educators, I can never forget her tall, striding figure as she walked the hallways and kept an eagle eye on students and teachers alike. Full of life, laughter, vision and energy, she gave me and my batchmates valuable life lessons and made us feel proud of our identity as Loreto girls. Sister Cyril, I can never forget you. There will never be another like you. May you rest in peace.

Chandrika Kar, Loreto House, ICSE 1981, Higher Secondary 1983

Sister Cyril was a nun with many visions. She had a vision to train Loreto girls as all-rounders, who were not only proficient in academics, but also in myriad extra-curricular activities. She had a vision for an equitable society, where girls belonging to different socio-economic strata had the opportunity to be educated and progress in life. She was a nun like no other – riding two-wheelers, fighting for what she believed in, yet teaching us the importance of good behavior and decorum.

Sister Cyril, we will miss you and all that you stood for. Rest in peace.

Madiha Ahmed, Loreto Dharamtala, 2009, Loreto House, 2011

Although I never had Sister Cyril as my principal when I was in school – Loreto Dharamtala and then Loreto House – I met her owing to my active interest in social work and outreach projects. I will never forget the guidance she gave me. I am still connected with the Sisters for educational and social work. Sister Cyril’s legacy will live on; she reminded me of Mother Teresa and Sister Nivedita, who accepted us all as their own, irrespective of where they came from. Their faith was so remarkable; there is no other way to serve God.

Last updated on 27.06.23, 01:26 PM

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