A champion of the poor and disenfranchised, Sister Cyril Mooney is recognized for her commitment to education and her work to challenge the caste system in India.
Sr. Cyril belongs to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto). Arriving in India in 1956, she completed her PhD in zoology at India’s University of Lucknow. She taught at Loreto College and then in 1979 she was named Principal of Loreto Day School Sealdah in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. The school was founded as an exclusively upper-class private school for girls. That changed when Sr. Cyril took the helm: the school opened itself to everyone, of any caste, class or religion. Now, of the 1,500 students, half come from families that pay full tuition fees that support the other half of the student body which pays nothing and receives high-quality education, medicine, food, books and uniforms. Bringing these two groups together into a cohesive, cooperative student body was, and remains, a revolutionary act.
Sr. Cyril’s initiatives extend further than this innovation: Through the Loreto’s Rainbow Program, 250 girls originally from the slums and streets now live on the school’s flat roof, allowing them to avoid the struggles of slum life in order to focus on learning. Her school’s staff and resources have built five other schools in Kolkata slums, providing access to the same high-quality education for an additional 6,500 students. Going further, Sr. Cyril created the Barefoot Teaching Program, which has trained 7,000 teachers who have reached 350,000 poor children in the city who otherwise would have no access to education. The model of education she developed is now being adopted by the state system of India.
Recognized as an education innovator, Sr. Cyril received the UNESCO’s NOMA Award in 1994 for spreading literacy. In 2007, the President of India honoured her with the Padma Shri Award, the Government of India’s fourth-highest civilian honour; Mother Teresa is the only other foreign-born recipient.
In 2010, Sr. Cyril was granted an Honorary Doctorate in Education from Trinty College in Dublin, Ireland. The following year Monmouth University in New Jersey, USA, presented her with their Global Visionary Award for her work in India and for allowing its students to get involved in her program. For the past six years, University of Manitoba students from the Faculty of Education have also worked with Sr. Cyril at her school through an intensive field study program. Sr. Cyril is recognized today for transforming the lives of thousands of others in India with her innovative approach to education.
Sister M. Cyril Mooney