independent

Monday 21 October 2019

Sister Orla receives a 'Woman of Courage' award from Melania Trump

Sr Orla receiving her International Women of Courage award from First Lady Melania Trump
Sr Orla receiving her International Women of Courage award from First Lady Melania Trump
Sister Orla Treacy (front row, second from right) with the other nine International Women of Courage, Melania Trump and other dignitaries.

Mary Fogarty

Bray native Sr Orla Treacy was presented with an International Women of Courage award last Thursday in Washington, by American First Lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

She received the award for her fearless work for young people and commitment to education in war-torn Sudan.

'We are so proud of her, as are all of the people of Bray,' said her fellow Loreto sister Chris Goodman. 'Everyone knows Orla, and it's just such extraordinary work, and really dealing with trauma every day of the week.

'It's so well deserved. She is made of strong stuff. She really is a woman of courage. You just can't imagine what it's like to live in those conditions.

Sr Orla was one of 10 women from around the world who received the award, having demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women's empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.

Sr Orla, a member of the Loreto congregation and past-pupil of Loreto Bray, works in conflict-torn South Sudan. She was nominated by the US Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich.

'We are absolutely thrilled. It's a fantastic honour for Orla and particularly for the mission in Rumbek,' said Sr Chris.

Hunger, disease, lack of education and forced marriage are among the many dangers that young people face in their uncertain lives in the African country, all against a backdrop of civil war.

'War is not just about who is being killed,' Sr Orla told a group of Loreto Bray girls in 2017. 'It's about who has lost their home, who is dying from disease, and about hunger.'

Sister Orla attended Loreto until 1991 and lived on Herbert Road in Bray. Her father Blaise Treacy is a former Wicklow County Manager.

Born in Ireland in 1973, Sister Orla Treacy was, at a young age, inspired by the lives of service and compassion of her teachers who were religious sisters. After studying to become a teacher of religion, she joined the congregation of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), known as the Loreto Sisters.

In 2006, while teaching and offering pastoral care in Ireland, she joined other Loreto Sisters who were starting a new mission in Rumbek, South Sudan-an area besieged by civil war and violent inter-clan conflict.

Touched by the plight of girls who were being forced into early marriage and denied the right to an education, she took action. Sister Orla and the Loreto Sisters started a girls-only boarding school with 35 students.

'I did visit very briefly some years ago,' said Sr Chris. 'You are up against cultural traditions, but it's very much part of what we're about in terms of education, particularly the education of girls. She represents everything of what Loreto is about.'

Today, Sr Orla serves as the head administrator of the Loreto Rumbek Mission in Maker Kuei, overseeing a boarding secondary school for girls, a co-educational primary school, and a women and child-centric primary healthcare facility.

Despite the devastating consequences of war in Rumbek, and the many barriers to women and girls in the community, Sister Orla remains filled with hope, and the Loreto Schools stand as a beacon of light for future South Sudanese generations. She continues to work in faith, striving for a world in which girls are not forced into marriage, are allowed to complete their education, and can pursue their dreams.

In 2017, Sr Orla was given the Hugh O'Flaherty International Humanitarian Award in recognition of her courageous and inspiring work in South Sudan, Jerry O'Grady, Chairman of the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society in Killarney has sent his and his members' 'heartfelt congratulations to Sr Orla on receiving this wonderful international honour'.

Having taken a few days to go to Washington for the ceremony, the Bray native is continuing her tertianship now in Ireland.

The practice is customary among Loreto nuns, who take time out from their careers ten to 15 years after making their final profession, stepping back to take time for reflection, prayer and pilgrimage. Sr Orla and seven others in the group are around half way through the eight-month programme.

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