herald

Monday 18 December 2017

City nun's shock as she gets medal honour from the queen

A DUBLIN-BASED nun was "shocked and humbled" to receive an award from Queen Elizabeth for her work in Africa.

Sister Helen Spragg said she was excited to get a letter in Dublin asking her if she would accept an MBE from the queen.

The Medical Missionaries of Mary nun, based in Booterstown, will travel to Buckingham Palace in May to receive her award.

The honour recognises her work in Rwanda in improving health care for poor communities.

Sr Helen (49) told the Herald: "It came as a bit of a shock. It was a bit humbling. I suppose you could say it was shocking, humbling and exciting. The award really recognises the work of a team of which I was part."

She decided to join the Irish order of nuns at 25 when she was working as a pharmacist in her native Sheffield. She travelled to Dublin and spent her first two years of religious life in the city before being transferred to Kenya.

"I suppose I joined because I was idealistic and I wanted to work with people who were on the margins. I wanted to live in a community that was based on prayer and I liked adventure," she said.

She worked for several years as a pharmacist in Uganda before being sent to a remote part of Rwanda in 1998 to develop community health care.

"In Rwanda revenge killings after the genocide were still happening years later. There were still people fleeing," she said.

She is currently participating in clinical pastoral education at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin. She may be sent to Africa or Brazil in the future. "I really like Dublin. For a major city, it is still friendly with its own character," she said.

She will travel to Buckingham Place with her fellow MMM nun Sr Brigid Corrigan, also a British citizen, who entered the order in Dublin. A medical consultant, Sr Brigid is receiving an MBE award for her work fighting the spread of HIV in Africa.

The Irish order has several Irish nuns working in Africa. Most of the Irish nuns are aged over 50 and the younger nuns are Africans.

aokeeffe@herald.ie

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