Half a million street kids of India owe their education to this angelic Irish nun

Meet Sr Cyril Mooney, the Irish nun who spent 60 years in India, educating some of the poorest children. She did many bold things for her time like mixing rich and poor kids in the same class. Allowing street kids to sleep in schools. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007.



Meet Sr Cyril Mooney, the Irish nun who spent 60 years in India, educating some of the poorest children. Hailing from Bray, Co Wicklow she left Ireland for Kolkata when she was all of 19.

Born in 1936, Sr Cyril won a scholarship to Loreto Convent in Bray and decided to become a nun at the age of 13. She set sail for India in a journey that started from Dun Laoghaire and passing through London, the Canary Islands and South Africa before finally reaching Kolkata. She took it for granted that she would be visiting these places at some time in her life. Never did it strike her that she would end up spending 60 years in India.

At a tender age, she was overwhelmed by the shocking poverty on the streets of Kolkata in contrast to a relatively comfortable life she was leading.  “We had all of our schools and they were nicely run but we didn’t pursue any of these situations of poverty that we saw.” It was a disconcerting change from the Ireland that she came from.

She understood that although there were poor people back in Ireland but something was being done for them. She knew that the chances of poor children getting into Indian schools were bleak.


She said: “When I took over in Loreto Sealdah, I found that the vast majority of children on the street weren’t going to school at all. Where on one hand, well-fed, well-dressed children were attending school; poor kids on the outskirts wee not going. “

Sr. Cyril mixed rich with poor, thus helping children who would otherwise not have got a decent education; this initiative by Sr Mooney is clearly a forerunner of the RTE ambitions.

The parents of rich children paid fees which subsidised the poorer children going to school. Not only this, she provided shelter to these street children allowing them to sleep in the school at night.

Sr Cyril insists that after a few weeks, you couldn’t tell the difference between students from both backgrounds as all wore the same uniforms and used the same books.

In 1983 Sr Cyril took a trip to her home country, Ireland to raise money so more children could attend the school. Her trip included visits to many Loreto schools explaining the poor conditions of children in Kolkata. Such was the tremendous response to her work in India that the The Gay Byrne Show on radio provided her with a platform to get her message across.


Soon she launched a “rainbow” project to integrate poorer girls into a previously well-off Loreto college. She became principal of Loreto Sealdah in 1979.

Although she is currently retired from the day-to-day duties at Loreto Sealdah but she is working with the West Bengal Government help street kids get an education. Sr Cyril said: “I am working now with the Government; we have opened 25 boarding schools where everything is supplied by the government. It is being done for kids who were living in the streets – there is no way they would get into a regular school.”

Sr Cyril believes Ireland can take a page out of India’s book where multi-faith education is concerned. In India, students from all religions attend school and yet everyone is treated the same

Sr Cyril encourages young Irish people and praises them for their very impressive volunteering working in Kolkata.

She said: “The quality of the young Irish people that come out to Kolkata is truly exceptional in comparison with anywhere.


“The Irish come out with one clear intention which is to serve.”

She was bestowed with the Padma Shri which is the highest award a civilian can get in India for her work in education by the late Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam in 2007 for helping and changing a staggering 450,000 lives.

Image courtesy: Wikipedia



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