Nun Honoured for Her work with Prisoners Abroad

A nun who has devoted a large part of her life to helping Irish people who fall foul of the law abroad was conferred with the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award last weekend.

Sr Agnes Hunt received the award from the Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Sean O’Grady at a function in Killarney on Saturday at which Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered the keynote address.

This is the fourth such award and is presented as part of the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Weekend that recalls the humanitarian work of Monsignor Hugh O‘Flaherty, the Kerry priest who helped some 6,500 people, many of them Jews, from being captured by the Nazis during their World War Two occupation of Rome.

Sr Hunt, who grew up in Kinsale, Co. Cork, spent sixteen years as a chaplain in Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London. She was the first woman ever appointed chaplain of a male prison in Britain and during her time there, she formed close ties with many of the prisoners and their families.

Now back in Ireland, she still works with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas ((ICPO) and each week writes letters to Irish prisoners in foreign jails.

The ICPO put her forward for the award in response to an invitation from the award committee for nominations of people who are regarded as displaying the ideals and principals of Monsignor O’Flaherty. Sr Hunt’s colleague, ICPO Co-ordinator Joanne Joyce, said that, “34 years after her first day in Wormwood Scrubs, Sr. Agnes remains committed to supporting prisoners.”

“Every week she comes into our Maynooth office to write to prisoners serving life sentences in the UK, many of whom she has known since her time at Wormwood Scrubs. For many of them the letter they receive from Sr. Agnes each week will be the only contact they have with the outside world,” said Ms Joyce.

The chairperson of the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Committee, Mr Jerry O’Grady said that it was fitting that this year’s award should go to Sr Hunt.

“During the occupation of Rome in World War Two, the Monsignor’s work with the Rome Escape Line started with he was made chaplain for one of the many Prisoner of War Camps,” he noted. “Even after the war, he visited prison camps, which were then housing German Prisoners of War and when quizzed by people as to why he was bothered about the needs of the former oppressors, who had at one time a death warrant against him, he just answered, ‘God has no Country’.”

The attendance at the Award Ceremony included Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown and British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott. The Memorial Weekend was opened on Friday by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan. The Monsignor’s nephew, retired Justice Hugh O’Flaherty recounted his own memories of his uncle.

The weekend also included the first O’Flaherty Kerry Trail Tour that visited his grave in Cahersiveen, a photo and memorabilia exhibition and painting, schools’ essay and poetry competitions.

In November 2008, the then Killarney Humanitarian Award was posthumously awarded to Monsignor O’Flaherty and since then the award has been re-named after him.

The award has previously been won by Goal aid workers Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki (2009), Philippines based Columban Fr. Michael Sinnott (2010) and Trócaire’s Latin America Director Sally O’Neill (2011).

In future years, according to Mr O’Grady, nominations for whole teams or organisations will be accepted, in addition to individual nominations.

Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six recounted the story that when he first met Sr Agnes, he said that he told her that he was innocent, to which he said, she replied to him that, “She was not there because he was innocent, she was there because I was in prison, and whether I was innocent or not was not the question.”

by Fintan Deere



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