Archived News Item

Mercy alive in Pakistan

Sister Gulnaz Alfred RSM (Pakistan) reports on how the seed of Mercy that Catherine McAuley sowed 175 years ago in Dublin has miraculously found roots in Pakistan and is flourishing. Currently, seven Sisters of Mercy are permanently residing in two areas of Pakistan – Rawalpindi in the north, near Islamabad, and Karachi in the south, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. Gulnaz describes how some of the sisters and the communities they serve celebrated Christmas. She also admits that her article is “an attempt to encourage sisters in Australia to see the ways in which they could come and serve here in Pakistan.”



This article focuses on how the seed of Mercy that Catherine McAuley sowed 175 years ago in Dublin has miraculously found roots in Pakistan and is flourishing.


These days Mercies are present in Rawalpindi and Karachi. The following gives a picture of how the seven Mercies who are permanently residing in Pakistan are actively involved in works of Mercy in a variety of ways. It is also an attempt to encourage the Sisters in Australia to see the various ways in which they could come and serve here in Pakistan.


Sister Patrice Orchard, the present leader of the Sisters of Mercy in Pakistan is also working as the Operation Manager at the Diocesan Board of Education (DBE) for three days a week. Hence, Patrice is involved in making important decisions around the upkeep and running of the Catholic schools. She is also Vice President of the Major Superiors’ Conference of Pakistan.


Here are some of the institutions in which the sisters are working and making a difference.



In 2006, Bishop Anthony Lobo proposed if the Sisters of Mercy could support St Joseph‘s Primary School and improve it. The sisters responded positively and since September 2006 Sister Anila Isaac and Sister Kaye Evans, who came to Pakistan for three months, have been working with the teaching staff members and children to improve the situation in the school.


General Background: Mughalabad is a settlement of 400 to 500 Christian families set up by the government for socially and economically impoverished people. These people work in the municipality, which means sweeping the roads, cleaning public toilets and the drains. The people of the area live on a very small wage. The families are large and the houses are extremely small with only basic facilities. People go out to get water. In such conditions meeting the everyday needs is a priority rather than education of the children.


Project Background: St Joseph‘s Primary School is located on the premises of the Mughalabad settlement. The new enrolments were only few and the rate of drop out was very high. In such circumstance the sisters started interacting with the teachers and the students to identify the reasons for this situation.


It was considered important to upgrade the standard of teaching and learning in the school. In order to improve the standard of the school:

§          workshops are being conducted;

§          assistance is being given in planning lessons;

§          the school environment has improved and has been made more learning-oriented;

§          the teachers and the children have painted the school with bright colours;

§          permission was asked from the DBE to make the school facility available to provide supplementary classes for children attending school and for non-formal education for the over age children.


A fete was organised in the school for multiple reasons:

§          to make people interested in the school activities;

§          to support the people by giving them good second hand material at low prices;

§          to support the school to buy some things.


All these strategies have definitely made an impact on the children in the school and increased the interest of the people in the school. The staff often find children, and at times parents, peeping through the gate to look at this colourful building that once looked dull and gloomy.


Christians in Pakistan have been mostly involved in education and health and also in the municipality. The education among the Christian community was very low since the establishment of Pakistan. In the early 1970s, the missionary educational institutions were nationalised, consequently the education opportunities for the poorer category of Christians were close to nil.


The nationalised schools were denationalised in 2000 and so the Christians got their institutions back in much worse condition than they were in 1970s.


St Catherine’s Convent Girls’ Higher Secondary School, where Sister Gulnaz is working as a secondary school teacher, is among the schools to be denationalised. The school is run by the FMM Sisters who have the vision of making the school an English medium school with a good standard of education.


The challenge is manyfold. The school consists of 40% Christians and 60% Muslims. The majority of students come from poor families while some are from middle class families. English is the fourth language for most of the students. Teaching the students in English subjects like Science, Social Studies and English calls for all your teaching skills as well as your drawing, acting and singing skills.



Sister Eileen Ann Daffy is the present principal of this prestigious school for boys. The school is known for its high standard of education.


Sister Mary is working in the primary section of the school supporting the teachers to modify the present syllabus and to be more creative and address the needs of the children. Presently, Mary and the staff are working to devise strategies for improving the reading and comprehension skills of the students for whom English is their fourth language with very little or no help at home.


Annette Chidzey, a volunteer from Australia who did an excellent job in St Mary’s Academy for 42 days in April to May and again for another 42 days in December to January was very impressed by the selfless service and hard work of these women. In her article Pakistan Calling – One woman’s “˜Fatal Attraction‘ she writes: “Their acts of compassion and service were powerful examples of unconditional love in action, be it accepting a child, blinded and maimed by a toy bomb explosion in his local village into their school when no-one else would educate him, or inspiring a mother to pursue her own education when others had not valued that education or her right to access it; evidence of mercy was tangible everywhere.”



In Karachi, in 1991, the Notre Dame Institute of Education (NDIE) was established by Bishop Anthony Lobo on behalf of the Pakistan Conference of Catholic Bishops.


At present two Sisters of Mercy are full time staff members. Sister Margaret Madden is the Director and Sister Catharine Ahern is on the teaching staff.


Recently six graduates from NDIE have been appointed on staff. Thus it has become a solid group with many and varied gifts all working as a team to give their best to the students.


In the words of Sister Catharine Ahern, “The greatest joy each year at NDIE is watching students achieve personal milestones and gaining a competence to work confidently with children in classrooms from the most isolated villages in the mountains to the most densely populated cities in Pakistan.”


In August, the staff at NDIE welcomed 56 Bachelor in Education (BEd) and International Graduate Certificate of Education (IGCE) students. This is the largest group to date, and also 10 final year Master of Education (MEd) students. Students from Sindh, Punjab, Chitral and Gilgit in the northern areas come to study here. To cater for this, the institute has organised for a hostel for girls and a hostel for boys. Most of the students at NDIE are on scholarships. They cannot afford to study further if the financial support of Mercies and other people is not there to enable them to do so. Many thanks to the Mercy communities, families and friends for taking interest in the students’ welfare and for keeping in touch and also for arranging for scholarships for the students.



As in every country of the world, Christians in Pakistan celebrate Christmas with as much enthusiasm as they can possibly muster. The children at Christian schools start preparing for carol singing and Christmas programs in the middle of November. They enjoy making Christmas cards and decorating their classrooms.


In Mughalabad, the students prepared Christmas drama around the birth of Jesus Christ and another drama to convey the message of Christmas, and that is to share what we have with those who have less than what we have.


The biggest thrill for the children here was that Santa Claus came to this small primary school for the first time. Thanks to Maureen and Leah, family members of Sister Patrice Orchard who came for a visit to Pakistan and filled the Santa Claus sack with gifts for the children.


At St Catherine’s Convent, the girls presented beautiful tableaus for several Christmas songs. At the end of the Christmas program snacks were distributed among the students.


Journey to Bethlehem

The students of St Mary’s presented a journey to Bethlehem taking the families through the various scenes Mary and Joseph may have encountered on the first Christmas. The travellers went through the “˜streets’ past the cobbler, the carpenter, the bread maker, the scribes, the stitchers and the winemakers. Mary and Joseph travelled on with their live donkey until they met the shepherds and their flock of sheep. They arrived at the stable and were greeted by the angels from prep class, who always look very angelic in their satin gowns. The baby arrived safely and couldn’t have been better behaved as “˜she’ was handed from Mary to Joseph and back again. The singing of “Silent Night” at the conclusion was very spectacular as the audience lit their candles and sang with enthusiasm. The evening was brought to a conclusion as all participated in the comfortable cup of tea and piece of cake.


Christmas Celebrations and Winter Holidays
Midnight Mass at St Joseph‘s Cathedral was magnificent. The tall Christmas tree standing in the Church compound looked bright and beautiful. The church was beautifully decorated. There were almost 5,000 people who came to attend the Mass. 1,000 people were sitting inside the cathedral whereas 4,000 were sitting under tents outside. What a wonderful experience! After Mass several street vendors had set up their barrows along the street selling hot drinks or corn on the cob or other hot food. There was even a balloon man selling balloons – what a wonderful festive occasion.


Christmas Day celebrations in the community began with morning Mass, followed by Kris Kindle gifts and an exchange of greetings before beginning the Christmas dinner which all had prepared. During the afternoon, we welcomed the sisters from our neighbouring Mercy community and again shared gifts and a cup of tea.


Eventually the long awaited winter holidays came. After Christmas the Pakistani sisters went to visit their families and the Australian sisters moved out of Rawalpindi for a few days break. The first stop was Peshawar where the sisters spent a couple of days sightseeing and visiting the Khyber Pass, from where you can see inside the beautiful, yet war torn country, Afghanistan.


The next stop was Swat. Here, the ski resort at Malam Jaba is a tourist attraction; the thick snow-capped mountains where people were skiing and having a wonderful time. The scenery around the valley was spectacular. The scenery from the hotel named The Rock City where the sisters were residing was magnificent. The Swat River ran alongside the main road and the banks were lined with rocks and stones of every colour and shape. The snow on the mountains was coming lower and lower every day.


Soon it was time to return to the various areas of work but the memories of these beautiful snow capped mountains will flash back in their minds during the hot summer season.


A Word of Thanks

In the end I thank all the Sisters of Mercy in Pakistan and to Annette Chidzey for making their contribution to this article. I am also grateful to the Sisters of Mercy in Australia for their support and for taking interest in our lives. May God bless each one of you and journey along with you in this year.


From: Sister Gulnaz Alfred RSM


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