CHURCH and State were brought together for the first time at this year's Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Weekend, the fifth annual celebration of the heroic cleric's life.
The centre-piece of the Memorial Weekend is the presentation of the Hugh O'Flaherty International Memorial Award, which each year is conferred on a recipient whose dedication to alleviating the plight of the less fortunate or persecuted merits recognition.
The occasion brought together, for the first time, the heads of Church and State, when An Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended the event, together with newly appointed Papal Nuncio for Ireland, Archbishop Charles John Brown, and the British Ambassador, His Excellency Dominick Chilcott.
This year's winner was Sr Agnes Hunt, who was nominated by the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas and was chosen for her commitment and empathy towards Irish Prisoners Overseas and families.
Sr Agnes was the first woman to be appointed to a chaplaincy in a male prison in the UK, when she began a placement at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, where she remained for 16 years. During her time she formed close ties with many of the prisoners and their families.
Following An Taoiseach's moving address to the audience of over 200 people, he was presented with a copy of the Monsignor's biography The Vatican Pimpernel. A similar presentation was made to the Papal Nuncio and British Ambassador.
Joanne Joyce of the ICPO, who nominated Sr Agnes for the award, accepted the accolade from Mayor of Killarney, Seán O'Grady, on her behalf. She informed the gathering that Sr Agnes could not be present to personally collect her award as she was unwell.
"Thirty-four 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," Joanne Joyce said.
The evening finished with a special tribute to the Monsignor and his colleagues and friends in the Rome Escape Line with the premiere of an original short drama on the life of Hugh O'Flaherty, written and performed by local actor/producer Niamh Burns and friends.